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’amore and 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 Traviata I 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 Walküre and La Cenerentola.
The Went Back for Seconds Award is reserved for the only opera I went to see twice: Hans Neuenfels’ Manon Lescaut starring 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
In my final two days in Salzburg (and, in fact, my final two days before flying to the USA), I saw a concert by Placido Domingo and an extraordinary, unusual Norma. What a great finish to my year of opera-going!
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 Children to 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 Mexico in 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.
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.
There was quite a Twitter gathering at the Bayerische Staatsoper on Saturday night. We were all a bit disappointed by the Norma we saw. The production was pretty, but the singers and musicians weren’t all well-suited to their roles. I’ve heard Radvanovsky (our Norma) before, and I love her sound. (Not everyone does.) But I heard her in Verdi in a huge house (the Met), and she didn’t do as well singing bel canto in a smaller house. You can read my full review here.
The Hungarian operetta Die Csardasfürstin is virtually unknown in the United States. That’s a shame—judging by the production I saw at the Deutsches Theater last night (on tour from the Budapest Operetta Theater), it would be a hit on Broadway. This musical comedy has it all: annoyingly catchy tunes, jaw-dropping dance moves, and a feel-good happy ending. My review for Bachtrack is here.
I don’t like Berg. So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Lulu at the Bayerische Staatsoper. It almost felt like a super-dramatic play with bizarre incidental music rather than an opera. That’s mostly because the cast was full of incredible singing actors—even the people who sometimes struggled vocally were always dramatically on point. Also, the playing (and conducting by Petrenko) made the score sound much more melodic than any of the recordings I’d heard. My full review for Opera Online is here.
There are too many Traviatas out there to waste time on bad ones. But I was disappointed by the Bayerische Staatsoper’s current production. (My review is here on Bachtrack.) The house was full—Traviata always sells well—but neither the staging nor the musical delivery were anything special.