Showing posts with label Bavarian State Opera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bavarian State Opera. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to be yourself in music

The other day a fascinating CD landed on my desk. It's music by a composer who is also a well-known conductor - indeed, he'd probably say, most modestly, that he's a conductor who composes on the side. He's the splendid Iván Fischer, a maestro whose work I've known and loved for years, and whom I've interviewed a few times, but whose original music I knew not at all. I'm reviewing the disc for BBC Music Magazine, so the detail must wait for that; but how intriguing it was to find I was listening to that same voice I knew from his performances and interviews, translated into new-created music.

Fischer. Photo: Marco Borggreve
Whether it's a touching solo song in Yiddish (amazingly sung by Fischer's daughter, the contemporary-specialist soprano Nora Fischer), a short Sextet for strings and tabla subtitled 'Wanderlust', the anguished German-Yiddish Cantata or the short opera Tsuchigumo, a completely off-the-wall creation in six languages and plenty of pastiche, based on a 15th-century Noh play - that voice is Essence of Fischer. It's spare, direct, condensed. It's funny, agonising, personal, satirical, sometimes switching between these in a flash, sometimes all at one go. It's malleable, adaptable, insightful. A spot of Italian baroque style and language rubs shoulders with circus-like effects full of Hungarian black humour. And the opening fanfare is all fun - catchy and melodic and showy. Behind such chameleon-like eclecticism, though, lies a consistent personality: that voice, at one with the performer and the man.

I've noticed this occasionally with performers, too. I remember coming home from interviewing Mitsuko Uchida once and switching on the radio to hear her playing a Mozart piano concerto. There, bowling out of the airwaves, was the same voice that had just been talking to me - except now on the piano. The means of expression - the breathing, the phrasing, the dynamics, the eloquence - was just the same. When everything connects to the innermost self, when, if you like, the channels are open and there's a faultless technique without psychological blocks to hold it up, a musician can perform as the person she or he is, a composer writes the music that expresses the essence of his or her soul, and the more intelligent, enquiring and insightful the person, the more there will be to communicate.

Perhaps this is what lies behind that personal sound that all string players seek - in reality, it's probably there already and it's up to them to develop and refine it; and likewise, the distinctive sound of every great pianist (people who don't play the piano sometimes think this is impossible, but it isn't). You can even find it in an orchestra, when it's really at one with the music and the conductor; recently, at the Bavarian State Opera's Meistersinger, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, it seemed that unified, vivid personality with passion, meaning and a heap of attitude shone through every note of the overture

So what's it down to? Technique? Without the finest technique to put it across, that essence-of-personality won't come through; the technique is the means to the end. But there's no point having the technique if there is no personality behind it, nothing to say about the music, nothing to communicate. As Martha Argerich once said, the sound must be in your head before you can create it: it begins with the imagination.

You can hear Fischer conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra at the Proms on 26 August - they are doing the Mozart Requiem, with the Collegium Vocale Gent.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of examples to illustrate these pieces of quasi-profundity for a Tuesday morning.

Ivá Fischer's Eine Deutsch-Yiddische Kantate

Mitsuko plays Bach

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wagner summer twilights

Meistersinger in Munich: Jonas Kaufmann as Walther. Photo: Wilfried Hösl

I've been away for a couple of weeks in Germany and Switzerland, starting the trip with two Wagner performances which might resurface somewhere in this year's Chocolate Silver Awards for Best Opera and Weirdest Moment respectively (admittedly there's plenty of the year left for others to exceed, but they'll have to try hard...).

I reviewed both events for the Critics' Circle website: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg on the final night of the Munich Opera Festival, starring Wolfgang Koch as Sachs and Jonas Kaufmann as Walther, conducted by Kirill Petrenko - a dark-hued, clever, detailed, fascinating, roller-coaster production by David Bösch, set in 1968; and Parsifal at Bayreuth, the new and fervently anti-religion production by Uwe Eric Laufenberg, with Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role. The editors have entitled this one, with perspicacity, 'Twilight of the gods'.

'Weirdest moment' goes to the latter evening. Eating out with friends afterwards, we found ourselves in the same restaurant as Angela Merkel, who had been at the opera too, and she was perfectly friendly when some members of our group bounced up to her to explain how desperately sorry and embarrassed we are about Brexit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jonas follows his Meistersinger stage debut with...

Quite a party. Photo:
OK, so you make your stage debut in Wagner's longest opera, then you go along to the first night party and start doing a spot of jazz? Only if you're Jonas, and you are. Here's the report:

Reviews from Munich, and tweets by critics who were there, suggest that we who are due to see this later in the year (I'm heading for the last night of the BSO Festival on 31 July) are in for a musical treat, and that the modern-dress production works really well, give or take a predictable boo or two.

There's a video showing extracts at the Bayerische Staatsoper's magazine site:

And let's have a quick fix of the preview:

Closer to home, Glyndebourne's revival of the David McVicar production is about to open, on Saturday, starring Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs. Details and booking here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Return to the magic mountains 1: Manon Lescaut in Munich

You may think you're on holiday. It depends, though, what you mean by "holiday". I've been away for two and a half weeks, but this time has been brimming over with music, serendipity and a good few marvels of both. Every day has brought something new, a character from past or present, a startling contact or renewal, a joy or amazement, a revelation or insight or several, and I may need to take them one at a time...

I headed first for Munich and the Bavarian State Opera, steamy in the midst of a massive heat wave; here the final night of the annual Opera Festival brought Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais together again for Puccini's Manon Lescaut, relayed to the city on big screens and webcast to the world. This was the production by Hans Neuenfels that at the start of the season saw Anna Netrebko drop her participation, citing "artistic differences".

The square outside the Bavarian State Opera prepares for the relay

It's a bit of a mixed bag. The relationship of Manon and Des Grieux and its development is by far the most convincing element, and so it should be; the final act, the two of them in extremis, is a searing tragedy, full of struggle - Manon's passion fighting against the invasion of death, thumping the ground to bring back her despairing lover to her side. Opolais blossomed vocally and dramatically in the role to an even greater extent, perhaps, than she did at Covent Garden last year; Kaufmann simply soared along at the summit. Fine singing throughout in the supporting roles and chorus - but I am not sure I will ever get my head around the necessity for this chorus to wiggle about in fat-suits and pink wigs. Alain Altinoglu's conducting too brought patchy results: the opening tempo felt extremely fast, and some of the accompaniment was too loud, but often - not least in the intermezzo - it held a gorgeous eloquence.

Here Neuenfels, Altinoglu, Opolais and Kaufmann explore and explain the concept and the challenges of the opera.

A few days later, discussing the issue of the fat-suits and other potentially dubious details with friends who loved the production, I tried to see it their way: it shows Manon and Des Grieux defying convention, a pair of individualists in a world in which everyone else looks and behaves the same (except, presumably, for the Dancing Master, who turns up bearing some resemblance to an orang-utan, perhaps a refugee from Munich's old Rigoletto production set on the Planet of the Apes). As the introductory film declares, Manon and Des Grieux are seeing the world around them as nothing more than a preposterous installation compared to their love. Yet Jonathan Kent's production at Covent Garden last year spoke far more to me of the darker truths of this story in an incarnation for today's world, where it remains the most "relevant" opera of them all.

So what's the essential problem with Manon Lescaut? It could just be that the original book is a short, terse, taut, action-packed, 18th-century thriller. It shows us Des Grieux torn apart by his passion for a girl who wants to have her cake and eat it and whose charm makes her attractive, but who is more anti-heroine than sympathetic lead. Romanticising her never quite works, and that is not the fault of Puccini, nor of any director: it's simply that Abbé Prévost's novel is too finely wrought to allow such a metamorphosis. Maybe that is why this opera, which blossoms with phenomenal music from start to finish, still does not have quite the same currency on the stage as Madame Butterfly or La Bohème. If any director has found a way to make the drama work 200 per cent, I haven't yet seen it.

More on the joys (?) of Regietheater shortly - from Bayreuth.

But even with all these reservations, it was a tremendous performance and an unforgettable evening. Oh, and if you'd managed to get backstage at the Staatsoper that night and you had this photo, you'd put it on your blog too.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Just in: Fallen? Aber nein!

This is the cast of La Traviata at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich tonight (NB, in the interval) as Germany progresses to the semi-final of the World Cup. "Something I've never, ever witnessed at Glyndebourne," says my spy.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A very spoilt opera lover's home thoughts from abroad

So last night, here in Munich, I heard Don Carlo with Jonas Kaufmann sounding perhaps the best I've ever heard him (and you know how good that is), Anja Harteros sounding like a platinum-plated Maria Callas only possibly better, Rene Pape sounding like King Marke as King Philip II and a baritone new to my radar, Ludovic Tezier, as Rodrigo sounding like a presence who will dominate his repertoire to very fabulous effect for years to come. How many great voices can you have on a stage at any one time? It occurs to one that - perhaps unusually for a Verdi performance - one could reassemble the same team for a certain thing by Wagner to fine effect, one named Tristan und Isolde...

But oh dearie dearie dear... I went and missed Barenboim's Gotterdammerung at the Proms, and today have been inundated with messages full of overjoy, overwhelmedness or plain old Schadenfreude from those who were there, or heard it on the radio, or who are calling for a Ring cycle to become a regular feature of the Proms, please, something I will second with all my heart (provided it's done by the right performers). After a 20-minute ovation, Barenboim made a speech declaring that what the audience had been through with him and his musicians was something he had never even dreamed of. Can't manage to embed the code for some reason, so please follow this link to hear it:

Extra plaudits for the Proms this year for having made me seriously question the wisdom of taking a summer holiday abroad while they're on.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Jonas to the rescue!

The Munich Opera Festival, which is in full swing for July, is doing wall-to-wall Verdi and Wagner this year. Last night it was Lohengrin. The tenor went ill. Who can you get to replace that at short notice? Hmm, how about that local bloke who knows the role?

Text from my spy says simply: "Jonas sensation, audience went nuts."

Kaufmaniacs should log on tomorrow when the Staatsoper is webcasting Il trovatore, with JK as Manrico, a role he's just been singing for the first time, with Anja Harteros - another local - as Leonora. My spy says that's sounding a bit good too. Webcast is free and starts at 7pm over there (so 1 hr earlier in UK and 6 hrs earlier in NY).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kaufmann is going to Sony

The other week an editor friend mentioned, en passant, that he'd phoned Decca asking for some pics of Jonas - only to be told to call Sony Classical instead. Ooh la la, we thought. It's all official now, and the great tenor has indeed jumped ship. We can expect a Verdi album imminently.

Meanwhile he is at the Bayerische Staatsoper rehearsing Il Trovatore with Anja Harteros for the Munich Opera Festival. I'm reliably informed that they are both sounding absolutely fantastic. We can all watch their live webcast from the theatre on 5 July.

They're also doing Don Carlo - and I may even get to see this at the end of the festival. Here's last year's backstage glimpse (in German).

So for Decca today, it's one in and one out, and probably time for the weekend.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Newsround: The Long Road to Parsifal

My Internet is back, so very quickly, before it vanishes again, here's a little newsround.


Don't miss this blog by conductor Michael Seal, who tweets as @batonflipper, about how Andris Nelsons dropped out of the CBSO tour and he had to step in at an astounding 20 minutes' notice. There followed a massive programme with Jonas Kaufmann singing the Kindertotenlieder. By all accounts Michael did magnificently. Is this his big break? Let's hope so. Interesting, too, to hear about how Der Jonas responded when a member of the audience shouted at him after his first song to step forward because they couldn't see him...


He's been around, but not playing the violin: an injury has kept him away from the fiddle on a sort of enforced sabbatical. But now he's back at last. Maxim Vengerov is on In Tune on BBC Radio 3 today, playing and talking, sometime after 4.30pm. Tomorrow he'll be giving his first Wigmore Hall recital for around 20 years, with Itamar Golan at the piano. I was at that last one, and I will never, ever forget it. He was 14 and there, on stage, was a spotty schoolboy playing for all the world like Jascha Heifetz. I am sure everything will be different now - have the intervening decades mellowed him, or will he be that same virtuoso daredevil? It's a comparatively restrained programme: Handel, Bach and Beethoven - but of course music doesn't get any greater than the Bach D minor Partita and the Beethoven 'Kreutzer'. Go, Maxim, go!


He's here:

That, in case you wondered, is a view from the pit at the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, where our Tomcat is currently working, having taken extra time away from London. His own enforced sabbatical (rather different from Vengerov's) has done him the power of good - and the particular ironic trajectory by which this Buxton-raised son of German-Jewish refugees from Berlin fetches up in Munich, playing Wagner's Parsifal at Easter, is something that you couldn't make up. The orchestra is fabulous, he says, with no weak links; it functions with plenty of space, great facilities, grown-up attitudes and, not least, crack football teams for both sexes. Right now he's being shown the town by Wilhelm Furtwangler's great-grandson, who happened to be sitting next to him on the plane.