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Posts Tagged ‘Johannes Martin Kränzle’

Stemme Shrinks Then Soars

In BBC Proms, Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 29, 2013 at 8:58 am

Review – Götterdämmerung (BBC Proms, Sunday 28 July 2013)

Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Siegfried – Andreas Schager
Hagen – Mikhail Petrenko
Gunther – Gerd Grochowski
Gutrune & Third Norn – Anna Samuil
Waltraute & Second Norn – Waltraud Meier
First Norn – Margarita Nekrasova
Alberich – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Woglinde – Aga Mikolaj
Wellgunde – Maria Gortsevskaya
Flosshilde – Anna Lapkovskaja

Royal Opera Chorus
Staatskapelle Berlin

Daniel Barenboim (Conductor)

Nina Stemme performed a magic trick last night – over and above her stunning performance and that of her colleagues.

The Swedish soprano managed to shrink the Royal Albert Hall so that over five thousand people believed that they were alone with her and she was singing just to them.

Astounding.

There aren’t words to adequately describe this performance of Götterdämmerung. Or indeed the entire cycle brought to London by Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle.

From the opening bars of Das Rheingold, through the drama of Die Walküre and the closing ecstasy of Siegfried to the final Immolation Scene last night, this is a cycle that stands comparison with the greatest. In fact, personally it surpasses all too many of them.

A constant throughout the four nights was the superlative playing of the Berlin Staatskapelle. Never have I heard such precise yet flexible playing. Every note was imbued with colour, every phrase articulated to perfection, every dynamic not only realized but also chased down with unerring precision. And if the drama was played out in front of them, then the players realized the drama themselves. Last night alone I watched as the clarinetists swayed, as the Second Violins dug deeper than ever before as Barenboim urged them to ever grittier playing the Siegfried’s Funeral March, as the brass lit up the entire hall with some of the most accomplished, and assured ensemble and solo playing I have every heard.

Yet at no point did the orchestral overpower the singers. Marshalled to perfection, under Barenboim’s leadership they were the singers’ willing friends, lovers and accomplices throughout. No detail was too small to be brought to the fore, no texture too inconsequential to highlight. Lavish attention was paid to the inner detail of Wagner’s music, no section rushed through or simply played to get to the next tableau. For example the transition to Siegfried’s Rhine Journey was full of the expected panache and arrogance of youth, but the transition back before the incredible confrontation of Stemme and Meier managed to convey the familial gloom that was about to descend.

Rising above the Staatskapelle was a cast of singers that was nothing short of the perfect ensemble.

The Rhinemaidens – Aga Mikolaj, Maria Gortsevskaya and Anna Lapkovskaja – made a welcome return to the stage, delighting with their finely crafted ensemble singing. Margarita Nekrasova’s First Norn alongside her sisters was in possession of a darkly hued voice perfectly suited to the role and her attention to the words was telling.

Johannes Martin Kränzle also returned as Alberich for the dream sequence at the opening of the Second Act. The return of so many of the singers in the same roles delivered in spades in terms of characterisation. Kränzle‘s Alberich of the final opera in the quartet was a Nibelung that had surpassed greed and revenge and had reached desperation.

Anna Samuil improved on her initial outing as Freia as both the Third North and Gutrune. While her voice retained a slightly brittle and brassy tone and ventured a little wayward above the stave, her performance – particularly as she awaited Siegfried’s return – as the tragic Gibichung sister was never anything less than committed. And as her brother, Gerd Grochowski’s Gunther balanced some fine singing with strong acting skills.

What Mikhail Petrenko’s Hagen may have very occasionally lacked in heft he made up for in the malevolence of his characterization. Like Terfel in Die Walküre, Petrenko deployed his stage whisper with chilling effect and combined with his fine ability to sneer through his words, he made his Hagen eminently believable and dislikeable. And ranged alongside him as his cohorts and conspirators, the excellent chorus of the Royal Opera House.

But what a difference a Siegfried can make, and in Andreas Schager I think we finally have a Siegfried of note. Schager is the man who stepped into Barenboim’s Ring when the contracted Siegfried – Lance Ryan – did not turn up.

Lucky for us Schager set his watch correctly.

From the get go this was a Siegfried to be reckoned with. Vocally stunning til the end, Schager was not only technically stunning, but he also possesses a clear, bright tenor voice, burnished and even and – most importantly – able to deliver the broadest dynamic range with any drop in the quality of his singing. From his opening duet with Nina Stemme to his final monologue, Schager was Siegfried and this was only made more pronounced by his excellent acting. This was a Siegfried with swagger, exuberance and more than a little naïve arrogance.

So finally to the two leading ladies.

First, Waltraud Meier. I still remember her Ortrud in Munich and here, both as Waltraute and Second Norn, she once again demonstrated that she is, quite simply, a singer of incredible distinction, experience and authority with a voice that literally shines. And the audience showed their appreciation and veneration for Ms Meier at the end. Waltraute might be a small role but in Waltraud Meier it had both stature and nobility.

And Nina Stemme? Over the course of the cycle – from the exuberance of her opening Hojotoho in Die Walküre to her final Selig grüsst dich dein Weib! – this magnificent soprano took the entire audience on Brünnhilde’s journey from Immortal Warrior to Woman.

Stemme’s performance had everything. Vocally secure throughout, there was a steely sheen and gloss combined with a depth and weight in her voice that carried her both above and through the orchestra. And it was a Brünnhilde of great subtlety. Stemme displayed a stunning control of both dynamic range and colour that was thrilling. Her sense of horror at the end of the First Act was nothing compared to the white-hot rage as she realizes her deception by Siegfried and the resultant blood-curdling trio as she exacts her revenge. And all delivered with such passion, vitality and breadth of colour that the audience collectively held its breath.

But nothing prepared the audience for the final scene. Here the sweep of grandeur of Stemme’s voice, her total commitment, the sense not only of finality, but both justice and love was wrapped up in the most incredible Immolation scene ever heard.

And what a dramatic coup – placing her above the orchestra, above the audience. Amazing.

Her success was evident in the roar of approval from the audience. It was nothing short of any shout than can be heard in any sports stadium.

Finally to Daniel Barenboim. Genius. Simply genius.

Over four nights he brought Wagner’s music to life, painting a succession of scenes in both words and sound that was nothing short of perfection. And his short speech at the end, after all the cheering, was brilliant.

And his clear love of the Ring cycle was evident throughout. Not in the fact that he didn’t always need the score; or that he energetically exhorted the orchestra to dig deeper and deeper into the music; or that he coaxed and directed the singers, shaping their phrases with his gestures.

No. It was in those moments when he stood back against the podium and let the music sing out for itself.

This was a Ring cycle not of note but of history. And to be part of it was more than exhilarating. Or exciting. Or momentous.

It was humbling.

Pseudo Siegfried

In BBC Proms, Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 27, 2013 at 10:26 am

Review – Siegfried (BBC Prom, Friday 26 July 2013)

Siegfried – Lance Ryan
Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Wanderer – Terje Stensvold
Mime – Peter Bronder
Alberich – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Fafner – Eric Halfvarson
Woodbird – Rinnat Moriah
Erda – Anna Larsson

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim (Conductor)

I suppose if I had paid attention at school, the law of statistics – or was it probability – would have told me that things cannot remain constant.

After an excellent Das Rheingold and a white hot Die Walküre that something had to give. It was also interesting to note that after the crush of the first two operas, there were noticeably a few empty seats. Personally I struggle with Siegfried at the best of times and it’s good to know that perhaps I am not alone.

That something was Siegfried. Literally.

That is not to say that Lance Ryan wasn’t a competent and in some parts, a formidable Siegfried – and perhaps it was the unforgiving acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall at times – but it wasn’t a consistent Siegfried.

He clearly has the vocal range for the role and there were moments in the Second and Third Act where he sang with both great authority and eloquence. Daß der mein Vater nicht ist was beautifully delivered as was his monologue before the appearance of Brünnhilde. And dramatically there were some telling moments – for example his confrontation with the Wanderer. But in the First Act and the final duet with Nina Stemme it wasn’t so much the strain of singing above the orchestra as the lack of heft and in some places – the Forging Song –it was very noticeable. Indeed there were times when Ryan didn’t seem able to follow what Barenboim was clearly seeking from him.

I am in sure in an opera house, with the orchestra in the pit, Ryan’s Siegfried is the whole package, but while in South Kensington it was both compelling and well acted, vocally it lacked that vital sheen and depth.

And just a note here on the acting. It faltered in Das Rheingold but in both Die Walküre and Siegfried the singers have literally inhabited the stage.

Barenboim drew some wonderful singing from the rest of the cast. The Mime of Peter Bronder might have fared better with stronger vocal characterisation and there were moments when I almost felt like he was shouting to be heard, but both Johannes Martin Kränzle as Alberich and the Fafner of Eric Halfvarson continued their strong performances from the opening opera of the quartet. Similarly, Terje Stensvold’s Wanderer was incredibly strong – both vocally and dramatically. His performance oozed a real sense of experience.

Anna Larsson returned as Erda sans the excessive vibrato of Das Rheingold and delivered the Earth Goddess with deep and velvety authority and the Woodbird of Rinnat Moriah was a delight. Perched at the top of the hall, her bright soprano literally shone and floated and whereas it is quite commons for the Woodbird to sound rushed, Barenboim indeed expertly made it all sound fluid, relaxed and birdlike without halting or slowly the tempo.

And Nina Stemme continued to enthrall the audience and delivered an incredibly strong, vocally secure and impressive Brünnhilde in the final act. She commands the stage as ever from her first appearance. It has been a long time since I have heard the Siegfried Brünnhilde sung with such a range of emotion and colour.

As ever Barenboim drew some incredible playing from the Staatskapelle Berlin. I have never heard the horn solo – or any of the instrumental solos in Siegfried – played with such aplomb and beauty. The brass were particularly impressive and I have never heard any performance where the players and conductor have created so many different colours and hues. The opening, so expertly controlled by Barenboim in terms of dynamics and tempo was chilling but it was the playing in the final scenes – Barenboim almost up from the podium to exhort the brass to ever greater brilliance – that was simply astounding.

The combination of Barenboim, the Staatskapelle and a cast including Stemme, Waltraud Meier and Mikhail Petrenko promises an incredible end to the cycle on Sunday with Götterdämmerung.

All That Glistens …

In BBC Proms, Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Review – Das Rheingold (BBC Prom – Monday 22 July 2013)

Wotan – Iain Paterson
Fricka – Ekaterina Gubanova
Alberich – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Loge – Stephan Rügamer
Fasolt – Stephen Milling
Fafner – Eric Halfvason
Mime – Peter Bronder
Woglinde – Aga Mikolaj
Wellgunde – Maria Gortsevskaya
Flosshilde – Anna Lapkovskaja
Freia – Anna Samuil
Donner – Jan Buchwald
Froh – Marius Vlad
Erda – Anna Larsson

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim (Conductor)

… is most definitely gold.

Daniel Barenboim, an almost excellent cast and the luminous Staatskapelle launched the BBC Proms’ first ever Ring Cycle with an incredibly dramatic and committed performance of Das Rheingold.

Even before he had raised his baton, an excited and enthusiastic audience greeted Barenboim. And he didn’t disappoint. Seemingly from out of nowhere he drew the opening notes from the Staatskapelle Berlin with both incredible precision and dynamic control.

Das Rheingold is not the most dramatic of the four operas that make up the cycle but from the onset Barenboim found an unerring sense of drama in both the music and the singing. Indeed, there was a muscularity to the orchestral playing that is often lacking from this opening opera and not once – despite the sometimes troubling acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall – did Barenboim fail also to point up the delicacy of Wagner’s orchestral writing.

And the orchestra responded in kind with some of the most luminous playing I have heard in a long time at the Proms or anywhere else. The strings – including the harps – had both depth and warmth, the brass was incredibly burnished and the woodwind’s beautifully pointed playing sparkled throughout.

And Barenboim kept a tight leash on the dynamics, not unleashing the full force of the orchestra until the very end as the Gods entered Valhalla.

I could easily have listened to the Staatskapelle perform Das Rheingold “ohne worte”, but above their incredibly and accomplished playing, Barenboim deployed an almost faultless cast. Glancing at the programme most of the singers have sung in this production it seems with Barenboim in Berlin and the sense of ensemble shone through.

And none of the singers was ‘lost’ in the hall’s acoustic either.

The three Rhinemaidens – Aga Mikolaj, Maria Gortsevskaya and Anna Lapkovskaja – not only sang their roles individually with great aplomb and vocal warmth but their ensemble singing was mesmerising.

The Alberich of Johannes Martin Kränzle was a strongly nuanced performance and his curse was chilling. For his short time on stage, Peter Bronder captured the sniveling character of Mime perfectly and I look forward to his return in Siegfried. Similarly the giants Fasolt and Fafner were nicely caricatured with Fasolt bringing at times an almost lieder-like delivery to some of his vocal lines. And while Jan Buchwald and Marius Vlad as Donner and Froh respectively gave fine performances, personally I found Anna Samuil’s Freia rather sharp with a distracting vibrato. Strangely it seemed to fit the goddess’s sense of hysteria but I hope that her Gutrune is less shrill.

I have always enjoyed Anna Larsson’s singing and her Erda – from above the orchestra – was thrilling. Ms Larsson has a rich and resonant mezzo perfectly suited to this role and again I look forward to her confrontation with Wotan later on.

But it was Fricka, Wotan and Loge who stole the evening vocally.

Stephan Rügamer was a perfect Loge. His light yet bright tenor rose above the orchestra to portray the character to perfection and put me in mind of Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Loge for Opera North. From his initial appearance to his final – almost snarling – closing words as he left the Gods to their own devices, Rügamer made it clear that this Loge had nothing but contempt for his half-brothers and sisters. It was a shame to realize we won’t be hearing him again.

I enjoyed Iain Paterson’s Gunther in the Met’s production of the Ring and his Wotan for Barenboim showed great promise for a complete Wotan in a cycle at some point in the near future I hope. His interpretation of this Rheingold Wotan was both thoughtful and well sung. He displayed both Wotan’s godlike arrogance as well as his insecurity with some distinctive and shaded singing.

But for me it was Ekaterina Gubanova’s Fricka who gave the strongest performance. As in the recent Gergiev recording, she manages to find the balance between Goddess and Wife with a lustrous, well-rounded and even voice that digs into the words. Simply marvelous and her confrontation with her husband in Die Walküre should raise the temperature a few degrees.

There was always going to be a real sense of excitement and high expectation with this Ring Cycle at the Proms.

Barenboim, the soloists and the Staatskapelle did not disappoint.

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