I’ve probably miscounted somewhere, but it looks like I saw 38 plays and 44 operas in Europe this past season. As you might guess, I have some favorites. So without further ado, let’s begin with operas:
The Unexpected but Awesome Colors Award for surprisingly successful production aesthetics is split between David Bösch’s dark L’elisir d’amoreand Peter Konwitschny’s (initially) cheerful cruise-ship Tristan und Isolde.
The Totally Regie Award goes to Antú Romero Nunes’ bold and striking William Tell, where everyone was a terrible person and the overture was not where I expected it. A close runner-up is the gritty TraviataI saw in Stockholm, where Kasper Holten managed to make strippers and homelessness part of this usually sparkly tragedy. (Note: many more productions were totally Regie; these are just the ones that were most successful at it.)
The Are They Even Human? Award for absurdly good singing is a three-way tie between Evelyn Herlitzius (Brünnhilde), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), and Javier Camarena (Don Ramiro) in Die Walküreand La Cenerentola.
The Went Back for Seconds Award is reserved for the only opera I went to see twice: Hans Neuenfels’ Manon Lescautstarring Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais. It was even better the second time, even if I never quite grasped the logic behind the Oompa Loompas. Oh, and did I mention that I got to meet Jonas Kaufmann?
The I Guess Modern Opera is Actually Pretty Good Award has three winners: Andreas Kriegenburg’s staging of Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten, Dmitri Tcherniakov’s staging of Berg’s Lulu, and Peter Konwitschny’s staging of Rihm’s Die Eroberung von Mexico. None of these shows was particularly fun to watch (mostly because of the dark subject matter), but they were all breathtakingly well-directed and well-acted. Great conducting brought out the lyricism in atonal scores and prevented the music from just sounding like noise. Continue reading The Ilana Opera and Theater Awards→
A dull Don Carlo in Munich, though one worth seeing for the singing (especially goddess Anja). Note to directors: black on black is a bad color scheme. Note to translators: please actually translate the libretto rather than leaving us to guess every other line. Note to artistic directors: Asher Fisch is a much better conductor for Strauss than for Verdi.
A silly Barber of Seville for Childrento kick off my Salzburg Festival experience. The young singers were not only musically solid, but also fabulous actors (especially the Figaro). Even the conductor (Duncan Ward) was wonderfully dramatic. I prefer my Rossini in Italian and complete, but this abridged version in German was interactive and fun.
The Conquest of Mexicoin a VIP-filled crowd at the Salzburg Festival (including the composer Wolfgang Rihm). It had nothing to do with Mexico. It was modern and bizarre and high-tech but also primitive and abstract. Artuad, Octavio Paz, Hegel—philosophy and literature and tones and grunting and screaming. Sound coming from all sides. Brilliantly staged so that it was somehow accessible despite the chaos. A totally unique operatic experience.
I went to Spain to sing in an opera (Cavalli’s rarely performed Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne) . We had four days to rehearse. What were we thinking!? I have no clue. But there was an opera just the same! While I wasn’t entirely pleased with my performance, I had a fabulous time meeting lots of other singers (of all ages and career stages), learning how to be more Baroque (it’s all about the elegantly asymmetrical gestures), and refreshing my Spanish (many cast members didn’t speak much English). It was also very special to sing in the beautiful Teatro Principal in Burgos.
The opera’s plot is complicated, with two frame stories. In one, the god of sleep sends his minions to create dreams, and a homeless woman dreams of a nymph being turned into a tree. She asks her wise friend to help her understand her dream. The other frame story sets the main plot up as Venus’s revenge for a slight offered her by Apollo (he revealed her to her husband while she and Mars were practicing “military exercises” naked, and she is angry). She complains to her father Zeus, and he suggests she send her son Cupid to get revenge. Cupid wounds Apollo while the nymph Dafne is passing by. Dafne is sworn to Diana (and therefore chastity) and refuses Apollo’s advances. When he pursues her in spite of her refusal, she asks her father to turn her into a tree. Apollo bitterly repents the transformation he has caused, but it is too late.
In an unconnected but interwoven (and very important, in my completely unbiased opinion!) plot, Cefalo has abandoned his nymph Procri because he has fallen in love with the goddess Aurora. Aurora is married to Titone, who was formerly young and handsome. She managed to get him eternal life, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. So he is now old and decrepit, which is why she’s running off to earth to fool around with Cefalo. Continue reading Being Baroque in Burgos→
Another Opernfestspiele review is up—this time of Arabella. Strauss isn’t my favorite, and this is not even his best opera, but I still enjoyed it a lot. The staging of the final scene was absolutely perfect. And Anja (our Arabella) is a goddess.
Tristan und Isolde was the first Wagner opera I ever saw, at Seattle Opera about four years ago. It was glorious and dark and tense. The production the Bayerische Staatsoper has (which dates back to 1998, and which I hope they keep for many more years) is the exact opposite. Bright colors! A cruise ship! Childish scribbles! It’s absolutely not what you’d expect, and it works beautifully. This cast was also fabulous. I cried. You can read my more complete and coherent review on Bachtrack.
Just when you think German opera stagings couldn’t possibly get more confusing, there comes a production that seems to be premised on the action having nothing to do with the text or music. The audience reaction to the Bayerische Staatsoper’s Pelleas et Melisande was so overwhelmingly negative that they cancelled the planned video broadcast. You can read my review for Opera Online here.