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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Gould’

Mass Transfiguration

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on December 10, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Review – Tristan und Isolde (Royal Opera House, Friday 5 December 2014)

Tristan – Stephen Gould
Isolde – Nina Stemme
Brangäne – Sarah Connolly
Kurwenal – Iain Paterson
King Marke – John Tomlinson
Sailor – Ed Lyon
Melot – Neal Cooper
Shepherd – Graham Clark
Steersman – Yuriy Yurchuk

Director – Christof Loy
Associate Director – Julia Burbach
Designs – JohannesLeiacker
Lighting Design – Olaf Winter

Royal Opera House Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Antonio Pappano (Conductor)

Transfiguration (Def)
Pronunciation: /ˌtransfɪɡəˈreɪʃ(ə)n, ˌtrɑːns-, -ɡjʊr-, -nz-/

Meaning: “A complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.”

The current revival of Tristan und Isolde is missing one thing. The programme should carry a health warning.

It’s been a while since I have left a production of such searing intensity that my senses were overloaded. And despite having seen the original production in 2009 – and loved it back then – nothing prepared me for the emotional and musical impact created that evening.

And I don’t believe I was the only one. While I seriously did think that Nina Stemme as Isolde was singing just for me – something I experienced when I saw her sing Brunnhilde at the Proms – I am sure that her performance of the Irish Princess was as overwhelming for the majority of the people sitting in Covent Garden that night.

It’s hard not to speak just of Nina Stemme’s performance but – as with the Berlin Ring cycle in 2012 – she was part of a cast that was from top to bottom, superlative.

Tristan is a challenging role but Stephen Gould’s performance was one of the most impressive I have heard in a long time. Vocally robust, as well as having the necessary heft and stamina, he also infused his singing with a musically intelligent use of colour and dynamic range. His Third Act monologue was beautifully paced and full of the dramatic impetus that is sometimes lacking in singers and in the Second Act he was wonderfully in sync with Stemme throughout.

As his companion Iain Paterson was equally impressive. His ‘brag’ in the opening act had the necessary balance of swagger and charm and his investment in making Kurwenal a believable character rather than a simple cypher was compelling at the opening of the Third Act as he moved from resignation and remorse to ultimately love and fealty even in death.

While some did not admire John Tomlinson’s King Marke, I was completely mesmerized. I have to admit if there’s a moment when my mind is apt to wander it is usually at the end of the Second Act when the King discovers the betrayal.

Not on this occasion. While his voice doesn’t necessarily have the range or lustre that it once had, there was an innate musicianship to Tomlinson’s performance and portrayal that made the King – for me – a human being.

And before we get to Isolde and her maid, a special mention of Ed Lyon. Why isn’t he seen on Covent Garden’s main stage more often. His lustrous tenor sailed out across the auditorium, beautifully clear and shaped. And in the smaller support roles, Neal Cooper as Melot as well as Graham Clark and Yuriy Yurchuk made very strong impressions.

Sarah Connolly is one of those singers who – no matter the role – pours her heart, soul and incredible talent into it. Alongside her Medea and her Octavian, her Brangane was no exception. I am currently listening to her new recording of Elgar’s Sea Pictures (high recommended) and her voice has developed a noticeably richer, deeper hue that was very much in evidence on stage as well. She matched her Isolde note for note, mood for mood in the First Act, and her warnings during the lovers’ tryst soared over the orchestra from the back of the stage.

But of course it was Nina Stemme’s Isolde that dominated. She has grown in the role since 2009, there is a new depth to her hatred as well as her passion around which is wrapped the most mesmerizing – almost hypnotic – singing, not only in terms of quality and richness but also in terms of characterization. Her curse reminded me of the white heat she generated in the trio of Gotterdammerung, but it was her Liebestod – a culmination of the emotional intensity of the entire evening – that left everything in its wake. And how wonderfully she floated the closing phrase.

Magical.

I read recently that Loy didn’t have Isolde die at the end, but rather she returns to her ordinary life with King Marke. And as Isolde slowly slid into that chair, I definitely felt that sense of resignation and nostalgia for a love lost and irreplaceable.

And I admit I love Loy’s production – the way he creates two very different worlds, bound together by an incredible sense of tension. He captures perfectly the simple fact that when you are in love, nothing else – not the world around you – matters. The life that surrounds a couple in love seems slower, more muted. But at the same time he creates a real sense of emotional tension in the small gestures. The almost tangible “buttoned-up” feeling he created – so cleverly in such an open space – could do nothing but explode with the ferocity of their first embrace. The way Stemme portrayed Isolde with almost child-like naiveté filled with overwhelming excitement as she spoke to Brangane as the Second Act opened. Setting the table. The way that, as they moved into the duet proper, Tristan and Isolde moved slowly together, hands touching first before holding one another.

Loy’s production brings Tristan und Isolde into the real world, amplifying emotions and turmoil that most people would fear to feel or express. I sincerely hope that – as the BBC don’t seem to be broadcasting it on BBC Four despite an apparent new commitment to the arts – Covent Garden are taking the opportunity to film this production for posterity.

And Pappano directed the orchestra with incredible fervor. The tempo at which he too the opening Prelude set the tenor for the entire opera. There was a noticeable ferocity to the playing in the First Act that was beautifully counterbalanced by the luxuriant sound world he created for the Second. And in the final Act, he slowly built on the bleak, drained sound created in the orchestra for Tristan’s monologue to created crashing waves of glorious – almost technicolour – sound for those closing moments.

And as the music slowly faded, I have no doubt that it was a performance that quite literally transfigured many of the people who had witnessed it.

Stream Of Pleasure

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Review – Götterdämmerung (Live stream, Bayerische Staatsoper, Sunday 15 July 2012)

Siegfried – Stephen Gould
Brünnhilde – Nina Stemme
Gunther – Iain Paterson
Gutrune – Anna Gabler
Hagen – Eric Halfvarson
Alberich – Wolfgang Koch
Waltraute – Michaela Schuster
Woglinde – Eri Nakamura
Wellgunde – Angela Brower
Norns -Jill Grove, Jamie Barton & Irmgard Vilsmaier

Director – Andreas Kriegenberg
Set Designs – Harald Thor
Costumes – Andrea Schraad
Lighting – Stefan Bolliger

Conductor – Kent Nagano

First of all plaudits and thanks to Bayerische Staatsoper and their sponsor BMW for the inspired and generous live stream of Kriegenberg’s production of Götterdämmerung. If only our own opera companies could find a similar sponsorship deal. Or that the BBC would put their greedy hands in their publicly-funded pockets and support a first-night initiative such as this after such massive investment in their web to the expense of others. Hardly likely – they can’t even manage to stream their own Proms.

But back to Munich and what a wonderful night. I was fortunate enough to see Nina Stemme in her first complete Ring Cycle in San Francisco. And while unfortunately Francesca Zambello & Donald Runnicles delivered an ultimately flawed production, Ms Stemme was magnificent in the role not only vocally – her voice being incredibly rich and multi-hued throughout her range – but also in terms of her characterisation despite Zambello’s poor attention to general attention to character detail in that Californian production.

And in my mind her performance and interpretation in Kriegenberg, even via broadband was magnificent and had grown in dimension.

Having not seen the three other operas in Kriegenberg’s cycle it’s difficult to make more than passing comment to the production. Yet it was obvious that this was a production that had been clearly thought out, lean with, it seemed to me, very little superfluous mannerism or PersonRegie affectation.

The opening scene was Chereau-esque in its post-apocalyptic vision. Stunned people were rifling through postcards while being tested for what could only have been radiation and having their possessions removed in plastic bags by men in protective suits. The three Norns – like unseen spirits – walked among them handling a red ball of fine twine. The frailty of that twine seemed so suitable as it was wound around the shocked and numb people on the stage.

Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s opening scene was sent in the most basic of shacks. Simple planks of wood for walls held together by Kriegenberg’s posse of extras provided the backdrop as Brünnhilde finished painting symbols on her lover’s arms. 1950s starlet was my first impression of Stemme complete with fake blond hair and Siegfried in the more typical garb for Siegfried with an ever so slightly rustic appearance. I guess the symbols had some kind of significance in terms of being protective totems – only seeing Siegfried would confirm this – and thank you to @rossignol for pointing out Brünnhilde’s hair was in direct contrast to the Gods’ own white hair as witnessed earlier on the Norns and subsequently on Waltraute.

Indeed, the scene with Waltraute while not exuding the white-hot emotion of LePage’s production – which was only due to the immense talent and experience of Waltraud Meier – was an insightful moment. Clearly this Valkyrie was slowly descending into insanity as witnessed by her obsessive-compulsive actions and mannerism. Perhaps in realisation of what the future held in store for her and her brethren? The humanity and calm of Brünnhilde in contrast was startling.

Kriegenberg’s cadre then provided a gently modulating Rhine before, in an inspired touch, they morphed into Gibichungs – suited and booted City workers who inhabited the multi-level Gibichung Hall.

Kriegenberg’s “Gewinn” theme of vulgar richesse while obvious was cleverly done complete with rocking-horse-Euro. Gunther and Gutrune – with a mirror image inference of incest harking back to Siegmund and Sieglinde – were suitably brash and brassy in character while Hagen as sinister business associate was simply chilling.

Hagen’s scene with the chorus using mobile phones to take pictures of the happy and unhappy wedding couples reminded me of ENO’s own scene with its tourists. I can only imagine the mobile phone element was to reinforce the city slicker image but the multi-floor stage came into its own here in terms of providing impact.

I have to say the one oddity in the entire production was Brünnhilde’s entrance at this point. Why the paper bag on her head?

The rest of the opera worked well within this set and before Brünnhilde prepared to set the world alight the cast rushed around the set throwing around heaps of paper somewhat reminiscent of the chaos in a company before it is raided. And considering Germany seems to be riding the current economic recession better than most others it seemed as if Kriegenberg’s Gibichung Hall was suddenly a warning against the ultimate consequence of greed. Nice touch.

And in the closing moments not only did the Rhinemaidens appear carefully carrying the returned Rhinegold but – and most poignantly for me – Gutrune took centre stage. As the world imploded around her and Wagner’s magnificent redemption theme soared out from the orchestra, we saw Kriegenberg’s extras return to the stage and wrap themselves protectively around her.

As I have said without seeing the rest of the Cycle it’s difficult to really appreciate or understand Kriegenberg’s overall vision but even within the isolation of this Götterdämmerung his ideas were rich and for the most part seemed well thought out and intelligent.

And overlaid on this was some of the best singing I have heard in a long time. Ms Stemme led an incredibly strong cast from the front. She was in magnificent voice, strong and supple, richly hued and intelligent from her opening bars through to the end of the immolation scene. Never flagging I always feel that the hushed moment in the closing scene at Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott! is telling of a singer’s skills. And here Stemme did not disappoint, floating the phrases magically.

Her Siegfried, Stephen Gould was similarly magnificent. A clear and bright tenor, he had the rarely heard heft and stamina that saw him clear the final act with great aplomb. Again, to his closing scene he remained in complete control of his voice, displaying incredible technique and a musical intelligence as this Siegfried came to the realisation of his first love and final betrayal.

The Gibichungs of Iain Paterson and Anna Gabler were similarly strong in terms of character portrayal and singing ability. Indeed it was one of the best pairings I have seen and heard in a while. Paterson in particular was in fine voice. And the Hagen of Eric Halfvarson, while taking a little while to warm up was a perfect foil in terms of the richness of both his characterisation and singing.

And the three Norns and the Rhinemaidens were equally impressive with ensemble singing of the highest standard.

I have seen Nagano conduct in Munich many times and as ever his was an intelligent and detailed performance bringing out both the grandeur of the score juxtaposed with the more chamber-like moments. And all with well judged tempi. And the orchestra under Maestro Nagano was stunning, producing a rich palette of sound that was discernable even via the live streaming.

Indeed even via iPad this was a stunning production both musically and directorially and I can only wonder what it must have been like in that square in Munich on the big screen let alone in the theatre itself.

Before Sunday evening I was minded to cancel my booking of the cycle in January, but now I am more determined that ever to see it complete – even if Nina Stemme is only singing Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung.

January 2013 cannot come soon enough.

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