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Posts Tagged ‘Sophie Koch’

A Magnificent Martyrdom

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on June 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Review – Dialogues des Carmélites (Royal Opera House, Thursday 29 May 2014)

Blanche de la Force – Sally Matthews
Sister Constance of St Denis – Anna Prohaska
Mother Marie of the Incarnation – Sophie Koch
Madame Lidoine – Emma Bell
Madame de Croissy – Deborah Polaski
Sister Mathilde – Catherine Carnby
Mother Jeanne of the Child Jesus – Elizabeth Sikora
Father Confessor – Alan Oke
Chevalier de la Force – Yann Beuron and Luis Gomes
Marquis de la Force – Thomas Allen
Monsieur Javelinot – John Bernays
First Commissary – David Butt Philip
Second Commissary – Michel de Souza
Thierry – Neil Gillespie
Officer – Ashley Roches
Gaoler – Craig Smith

The Carmelite Nuns – Yvonne Barclay, Katy Batho, Tamsin Coombs,
Eileen Hamilton, Anne Osborne, Deborah Peake Jones, Louise Armit, Andrea Hazell, Elizabeth Key, Kate McCarney & Deborah Pearce.

Royal Opera House Chorus
Royal Opera House Community Ensemble
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Director – Robert Carsen
Set Designs – Michael Levine
Costume Designs – Falk Bauer
Lighting Design – Jean Kalman
Movement – Philippe Giraudeau

Simon Rattle (Conductor)

Never has a martyrdom been so beautiful, heartrending and – in fact – ecstatic as Robert Carsen’s production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites.

A production previously seen in Holland and Vienna, it has finally arrived at Covent Garden and hopefully it will become a regular revival.

I admit that it takes a while for my ear to get accustomed to Poulenc, but Covent Garden has assembled a cast that has done justice to Poulenc’s music and Carsen beautifully balances the brutality of the closing moments with moments of simplicity, grace, devotion and, indeed love.

Personally I don’t think that there is a leading role. Almost as if Poulenc himself was reflecting the humility of the Carmelite religious order, each of the main characters has equal musical and emotional importance.

And while the diction – and let’s face it French isn’t the easiest of languages to sing in – wasn’t always perfect, each and every performance was unremittingly committed.

But for me it was Emma Bell’s Madame Lidoine who portrayed the greatest depth of musical intelligence and human emotion. Vocally she was outstanding, eloquently shaping Poulenc’s often-unusual vocal lines without any hint of strain at either ends of her range. And her command of the stage – even when stripped of her habit – was absolute.

The remaining principle characters were just as strong in their musicianship and portrayal. Sophie Koch’s steely tone perfectly matched the religious militancy of Mother Marie of the Incarnation and offered a welcome contrast vocally not only to the warmth of Emma Bell, but also with Anna Prohaska’s Sister Constance of St Denis. In her debut she found the right balance between her character’s sense of youthful exuberance and naive devotion and vocally her bright voice shone over the composer’s delicate orchestral palette.

Similarly, Sally Matthews shone as Blanche. Vocally there was some tightness at the top of her range but this did not detract from a performance of total commitment and passion. It was devastating to see her reduced in her own home, so skillfully acted by the soprano, before the final scene.

And how amazing was Deborah Polaski? This was a Madame de Croissy of both deep conviction and disappointment in God. As with her performance as The Nurse recently in Munich, she exuded musical confidence and experience as she coloured her vocal line with authority, combined with acting that invested her character with dignity til her last breath.

Yann Beuron bravely performed the First Act as the Chevalier de la Force and even though he was clearly vocally indisposed his performance was again both musically intelligent and well shaped. But plaudits must go to Luis Gomes for stepping in for the Second Act. His voice showed vocal promise and he seemed comfortably enough in Poulenc’s idiosyncratic music.

And when I talked of love earlier on, I was suddenly struck on the first night by the fact that this crucial meeting between the Chevalier and Blanche was nothing if it was not a love duet – albeit between siblings – but nonetheless about love.

Of the remaining men, both Thomas Allen and Alan Oke – again slightly indisposed on the first night – gave forthright and confident performances and the ensemble of Nuns gave excellent support to the main characters.

From the podium, Rattle drew some superlative playing from the orchestra and singing from the chorus. As I said, I find it takes my ear time to get accustomed to Poulenc’s music. The opening Act might have taken a while to settle down, but by the Second Act and beyond where clearly Poulenc’s music becomes richer and more supple, Rattle coaxed from the orchestra that delicate, vibrant ‘French’ sound world, reveling in the details of the score, but never losing momentum.

And complementing Poulenc’s music and the strong performances on stage was Carsen’s vision.

And as ever with this director, it was a finely nuanced production where the devil was in the beautifully observed and often stark detail.

The overall austerity of the set heightened the focus on dramatic details too numerous to go into here. But the opening of the Second Act where Madame Croissy’s body was made up of flowers; the ‘human cloister’ created by the Nuns in the Second Act or the menacing use of the crowds to create either virtual walls or a tsunami of across the stage to so effectively change the set demonstrated how thoughtfully Carsen had approached this production.

But if there was one scene above all else that captured the essence of this opera – its humanity, its austerity and its sense of oppression – it was when Madame Lidoine spoke to her sisters before the end. No walls, no distractions, simply a single shaft of light that so effectively created the sense of the Nuns, cramped in a cell, and stoically facing their unavoidable fate.

Indeed, Jean Kalman’s lighting designs were critical to the success of this production. Throughout he masterfully conjured up both a sense of incredible space – during the service in the convent for example – or that sense of suffocation.

But above all, it was the humanity of the characters themselves that made this production stand out. There was an authenticity to the Nuns’ own gestures and movements that showed how carefully Carsen had approached Carmélites and – I think – what impact the opera had on him personally.

At this point I would like to congratulate the Royal Opera for finding such a brilliant solution to that difficult conundrum – finding a way to integrate outreach work with productions. Initiatives are often impactful yet small scale, but with the Community Ensemble they found a way to make an incredible and valuable impact.

I hope it is something they don’t lose sight of.

Of course it is the ending of the opera that is most famous. In previous productions, directors have had the nuns walk off stage to their deaths. But here Carsen not only reinforced the brutality but also heightened the spirituality of their demise. As they walked towards their deaths, it wasn’t only the singing that underlined their faith, but the way that Carsen integrated the mystical, almost sensuous dance movements that some Carmelite orders were known for.

This production of Dialogues des Carmélites was a rare thing – a marriage of the highest standards of musical performance with a production that drew the finest portrait of a human tragedy.

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.

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