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Productions even sinks can’t save

Operaramblings has recently at the time of my rant hit on a subject that still (STILL) gets my goat. Naturally I ran to my 6 many months old ranty draft and stroked it a few times. Then I thought I should vent my anger (for it makes me foamy (oh, so foamy…)).

Eagerly awaited by yours truly, the 2011/2012 Munich I Capuleti e i Montecchi turned out to be a spectacularly inept production1. There are only two good things about it: Bellini’s music and Romeo. The rest is like a wisdom tooth ache: dull, painful and the mere thought of it almost as uncomfortable as the thing itself. Shame on you, Bayerische Staatstoper!

To those few who don’t know, in 2012 this production had VK as Romeo, Anna Netrebko as Giulietta and some guys in the other roles, plus Maestro Yves Abel running the shoddy ship into every rock on the way. To add insult to injury, midway through the run AN decided she’d had enough of her sink and unceremoniously boarded the nearest lifeboat. Bayerische shipped the 2011 Giulietta (Nakamura) back and refunded 1/2 of the (ridiculously high) ticket price to the angry Netrebkites.

Back in 2012 I watched the livestream (on mum’s ancient desktop) and then I re-watched it on youtube on a brand new laptop, which mum thoughtfully bought the day after. I read others’ comments on it, some of which made for very good reading though they appeared to be about something else than what I had seen. I didn’t make an effort to snap it before the cerbers at Bayerische mauled it off youtube. I eventually acquired it in hopes that time brings perspective. I’ve watched it a couple more times and my disappointment has turned to anger. There are just too many things that irk me:

Giulietta – NO. NO. NO. NO. Also: no.
fussy/inept costumes – epitome of fashion hype: unflattering and completely impractical
harsh lighting that made them all look like zombies – it’s set in a morgue, then
all-over-the-shop choir – perhaps coached by some fashion hanger-on
incomprehensible staging:

  • overly precious ending – just look behind you already, Romeo!
  • saddlesobviously!
  • sink – the sink is to regie what stairs are to trad productions = a bold statement of lack of imagination; this is a
  • wedding party on bleachers – fashion shoot on stairs, duh
  • reflective and uneven walls – the stage designer and the light designer meet after a successful double lobotomy

To be fair to the end, VK too seemed a day or two past the sell-by date. Major meh. It’s beyond annoying that posterity will be left with this video version of her Romeo, when she’s done such an exceptional job with this role over the years. At the time I was very upset that I couldn’t see it live but in the very long run it looks like I saved myself further frustration not to mention money and fuss.


  1. I don’t truly like any Capuleti production I’ve seen so far. Very frustrating. 
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Dearth of opera live streaming?

I really miss the t(h)rills of opera live streaming! I must’ve just been out of the loop due to being busy IRL, surely there were things happening? A quick search to two of those houses you can count on says:

La Monnaie:

They will be streaming Mitridate next May. It’s got Michael Spyres in the title role, which is very good, as the ROH rumours page says he will be the Mitridate here in London when we finally get it. Seems this early Mozart has picked up a bit of momentum (Theater an der Wien in April!). La Monnaie also live streams Beatrice et Benedict next month.

Bayerische Staatsoper () :

19 March Un ballo in maschera (c: Mehta; Beczala, Keenlyside, Harteros)

26 June La Juive (c: de Billy; Opolais, Alagna, Osborn, Kurzak ❤ )

31 July Meistersinger (c: K. Petrenko; JK and others who sing this repertoire)

Good times at the opera in 2015

venues2015

Chez dehggi, 2015 shall go down as the year of smashing opera trips abroad and the full Monteverdi. I’ve also visited new (to me) local venues such as the Roundhouse and Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. I had a boatload of Baroque and recitals from some of my top favourites but all periods were included. Also I had the chance to catch Operalia in its first stop to London. The one glaring miss this year was Glyndebourne.

January

L’Orfeo | Roundhouse: very moving performance and surprisingly fitting venue. It’s not for nothing I started the year on a Monteverdi high, I went on to see live his other two great works, in chronological order no less.

February

Farinelli and the King | Wanamaker Playhouse: a play with music, kinda like an opera but with less music, though the music got the most applause, so… 🙂

L’Ormindo (Cavalli) | Wanamaker Playhouse: not quite Monteverdi but silly as hell

March

VK Handel Recital | Karlsruhe Handel Fest: when the Baroquemobile shifts into turbo gear

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny | ROH: film noir meets mezzos

Semele | London Handel Festival: if I persist in listening, Sem’le I shall adore

Catone in Utica | London Handel Festival: new gen gets whimsical with pasticcio

April

St Matthew Passion | Barbican: the Passion of Mr Oboe and the Coughing Squad

Ben Johnson | Wigmore Hall: Mr Oronte sings zany stuff

JDD Masterclass | Milton Court/Barbican: shut up and learn to trill!

Adriano in Siria (JC Bach) | Britten Hall, RCM: a traditional production!

Il turco in Italia | ROH: introducing Aleksandra Kurzak’s chutzpah

May

Roschmann/Uchida | Wigmore Hall: when very serious and not so serious meet

VK’s Cleopatre | Stadscasino Basel: in which la forza del cleavage defeats dehggi

La forza del destino | Bayersiche Staatsoper: la forza del bad libretto vs. the Temple of Music

Krol Roger | ROH: mesmerising stuff

Sara Mingardo | Wigmore Hall: wrist slashing music done with elegance and… calm

Jessica Pratt | Wigmore Hall: major fun but should come with silencer

June

La voix humaine/Bluebeard’s Castle | Wiesbaden: women battling demons on a hot, sunny day

Queen of Spades | ENO: the least suspected mezzo tour de force (thanks (I think?!), David Alden)

Don Giovanni | ROH: all hail La Roschmann’s Donna Elvira!

July

Guillaume Tell | ROH: Gerry Finley acting mighty morose

JPYA Summer Performance | ROH: mixed bag with young singers

Operalia | ROH: high quality contestants

Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall: finally fearless Invernizzi

August

Daphne | Grimeborn: unplugged Strauss

September

La voix humaine/La dame de Monte Carlo | Wigmore Hall: la voix de la merveilleuse dame Antonacci

Adriano in Siria (Pergolesi) | Cadogan Hall: Farnaspe in love

Orphee et Eurydice | ROH: the Monteverdi Choir tames the furies

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria | Barbican: il triunfale ritorno d’AAC to Barbican

October

Ariadne auf Naxos | ROH: Mattila does it again

Leo Nucci | Cadogan Hall: old skool Italian

Xerse (Cavalli) | Theater an der Wien: Emmanuelle Haim and Le Concert d’Astrée at work

L’incoronazione di Poppea | Theater an der Wien: Metastasio, tornado of concepts and chatting about opera

November

Franco Fagioli recital | Wigmore Hall: sweetly done and Dopo notte!

December

Orontea (Cesti) | Wigmore Hall: shambolic early Baroque

Hard to wish for more excitement after this romp but, as usual, you never know. What I do wish is to hang out again with the fine folks I had such good opera times this year. Half the fun was you 🙂

May Madness Mix 3: La forza del destino (Munich, 7 May 2015)

templeofmusic

we’re not worthy!

As one advances on their opera journey new objects of adoration spring up. Works, composers, singers but also places. In my case Bayerische Staatsoper has slowly morphed into a mythical temple of music. I know, I know, corny – but, alas, too true. Proof that free video streaming does bring in new audiences. Dirt cheap tickets help too. When the occasion presented to finally see something there – even Verdi – I was filled with trepidation.

More madness was coming as we made our way that morning from Basel to Zürich and from there to Munich. As I had been too excited to sleep the night before, I thought I might catch a few zzzzs on the bus. Not so fast, tiger! A couple right across from us did not stop chatting through the trip. At some point the conversation turned to Cecilia Bartoli’s Cenerentola. We finally made it to Munich where I sort of caught a few zzzzs until 5:30pm when a terrible realisation came over us: tube strike! = one train an hour. On the platform we ran into this local who had already seen the show (Forza) twice and was going again that coming Sunday (his wife really liked JK 😉 ).

Life is full of coincidences: last year around this time I had a bit of stress going to see another Verdi opera, also due to a tube strike (that time in London). What with being on local turf last year I made it on time. This year the Cerbers at Bayerische held us back until the start of Act II (for being about 10min late). But dashing from the Marienplatz tube station through the back streets and up the opera house stairs is perhaps one of the most fabulous entrances one can make into their temple of music 😉

legoforza

poor Leonora

Il Marchese di Calatrava: Vitalij Kowaljow
Donna Leonora: Anja Harteros
Don Alvaro: Jonas Kaufmann
Preziosilla: Nadia Krasteva
Padre Guardiano: Vitalij Kowaljow
Fra Melitone: Ambrogio Maestri
Curra: Heike Grötzinger
Un alcade: Christian Rieger
Mastro Trabuco: Francesco Petrozzi
Un chirurgo: Leonard Bernad
Don Carlo di Vargas: Simone Piazzola
Conductor: Asher Fisch | Bayerisches Staatsorchester | Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Director: Martin Kušej

I found the acoustics of the house very interesting. Now I know memory is a tricky thing and seating should be taken into consideration as well as composers’ orchestration style etc., but I was glad to have a stab at ROH only two days later, so that I could try and compare the two anyway. I’d say the sound at Bayerische is warmer and more intimate, whereas at ROH it’s more in-your-face loud. The way the houses are designed might support this feeling1 – ROH with less rows of balconies and upper slips going further back could possibly allow for the quicker circulation of raw sound, whereas Bayerische’s steep horseshoe wall might cocoon the sound in the centre with gentler dispersion.

forzakusej

I’ve already expressed my contempt for the libretto but it’s never too late for another go: I fail to get how some can find anything deeper in honour killings in this day and age but hey. Presented with dumb characters that do not evolve I focused on beauty of sound. There was plenty of that, starting with the outstanding orchestra. Apparently it did not go so smooth back during its first run but I thought Fisch did a very good job with his orchestra this time around, bringing out all sorts of textures (listening to Verdi makes me constantly think about how much he learned from Bellini, though I know he liked to trash Bellini’s poor attempts at orchestration; this performance did emphasize his richness of orchestral ideas but I feel the soul of the music is Bellinian nonetheless; perhaps that’s what they call Italian). The balance of soft/loud was engaging and there were many moments through the night when solo instruments ( ❤ the clarinet) rivaled the singers in expressiveness; especially in the interminable various back and forths between Alvaro and Carlo, when you want to shake the librettist and say shit or get off the pot!

Fisch could have kept a tighter leash on Pace, pace, dio mio, which seemed shorter than usual. After listening to a few different versions including Harteros’ from the original run, I came to the conclusion that his conducting was rather unfocused here. However as far as Harteros’ tone throughout the show and in the maledizione specifically2 I have no complaints: as beautiful as one can hope for, full, sizable, smooth and secure. As I was saying to thadieu, I’d like more abandon in Verdi than her reserved/introverted singing allows but it’s gorgeous nonetheless. Poor Leonora, a proper powerless 19th century female character. In other words, quite a bore. Makes sense that Kušej buries her under a pile of crosses.

Speaking of amico Kušej, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of his work and I once again admired his elegantly ugly tableaux but hell if I could follow the deeper meaning in this production. Given the cross overload I take it religion is bad, which is fair enough. I suppose the crosses could also stand in for tradition – Leonora has no escape, tradition is larger than life.

click pic to see the entire scene from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

At the beginning of Pace, pace dio mio she’s sitting among the crosses then as the aria progresses she gets out to break some bread (weak attempt at rebelling against religion/tradition?) and finally she re-inserts herself among the crosses, much like Lucy Westenra does when Van Helsing repels her with a cross back to her coffin. Vampire Leonora could have been a nice touch, eh.

A central view does not do justice to the top tableau. It was a lot more fun seeing it from an angle. Kudos to the actors who had to hold their uncomfortable positions legs up for quite some time. The mysterious character who gets out of a coffin (? vampire hint again!) then slowly climbs up the wall and projects a very long dark shadow was another visually interesting touch. What does it all mean? Alvaro doesn’t fit in this world? He’s doomed? He should skiddadle pronto? I know I could check what he’s singing for clues…

forzaascentThis was also my first time seeing (in the flesh!!! like omg!!!) god’s most generous contemporary gift to female opera fans, Jonas Kaufmann. He was slimmer and sprightlier than I thought; visually he made a credible Alvaro (ok, he’s white but one imagines Alvaro as some sort of dreamboat regardless of ethnic background). On the other hand he spectacularly failed to engage me. I know I have a tendency to poke fun at him for being such a smooth chap, but I did expect a bit more spark in a live setting. As chief expressive tool he employed his tremolo which I think sets bosoms mightily atremble and which is as close as he gets to sounding Italianate. As far as I’m concerned it was efficient but nothing more. Also I thought he’d be louder though I’m glad that wasn’t the case.

Even after seeing it three times (twice on video recordings) I was still confused who the hell was who in the middle bit. In fact I don’t get what is the use of the middle bit. We’ve got this story where Good Girl is in love with Exotic Boy who is discriminated against by her family and kills her Stern Father in self defence. Pretty good start. All of a sudden another storyline is introduced for no discernible reason. Ok, let’s say they really needed to make Exotic Boy save Traditionalist Brother’s life to show us the misguided values held by traditionalists. Or something. I suppose this story makes a better novel than play/opera.

Perhaps hiring I-love-to-complicate-things Kušej for a strictly for Verdi hard core fans opera where characters are prone to disguising themselves was a bad idea.

My main frustration with not knowing who the hell was who and why they were there was because someone had really good comic timing (you got it, there’s a funny bit in the middle!), was ace in the recits and sounded very Italianate. Melitone, perhaps? Whoever it was, excellent job. Those recits flowed like mountain springs 😉 Though later he made less of an impression, I thought Piazzola as Carlo (thadieu saw it twice and swears it was him!) pulled some very touching pianissime around the time he was interacting with Preziosilla. Which brings us to the mezzo role in this brew. Verdi, Verdi, you’re shit at mezzo roles. How bloody annoying is that Rataplan aria? Good grief. At least Kušej made a proper mess of (what is here) the orgy scene and gave her a dominatrix outfit which she almost rocked. Singing-wise I thought she was pretty good, at least of large enough voice to hold her own. Honestly I can’t remember anything specific about Kowaljow, except I didn’t mind the Padre Guardiano’s part.

For me this was a quaint introduction to Bayerische Staatsoper but life is odd like that and I was in too good a mood and in too much awe of being there to be bothered. I guess it’s proof that even a strong cast can’t help a not very good opera. However it was sold out and so was I due Foscari at ROH so the pull of big names is great indeed. You know what’s funny? Bieito is directing it for ENO in November/December! The Verdi leprechun is so laughing at me:

An action-packed drama of passion, war, honour and vengeance

Or rather:

A confusing mess of two good tunes and common-sense lacking characters in endless disguises

By the end of the opera I was finally starting to flag and the both of us were famished, so we made our way to the sausage place down the street where we inhaled that weird German white pizza thing that’s basically onion on thin dough, plus some wurst. Then I slept like a log for the first time in months.


  1. …or not; I don’t know anything about architecture + acoustics but I assume with the best of them 😉 if I’m talking bollocks so be it. 
  2. I’d probably care very little about this opera if there were no maledizione

The Cirque du Soleil Clemenza Act II (Munich, 15 February 2014)

nonpiudifiori

  • Tito: Toby Spence
  • Vitellia: Kristine Opolais
  • Sesto: Tara Erraught
  • Annio: Angela Brower
  • Servillia: Hanna-Elisabeth Muller
  • Publio: Tareq Nazmi

Conductor: Kirill Petrenko | Director: Jan Bosse | Costumes: Victoria Behr
Bayerisches Staatsorchester | The Chorus of Bayerische Staatsoper

Act II starts with the bleachers covered in ashes, the balcony and columns presumably charred to the ground. The curtain raises and it’s pretty dark on stage, must be all the smoke. We see Sesto is there by himself, trying to get his bearings. He’s lost his tailored jacket but still has his Torture Garden heels on. Unicorn boy rushes from the side and calls out to him. Sesto is too preoccupied and doesn’t hear him. Resourceful Unicorn boy makes his way to the harpsichord and calls him from there with the help of continuo accompaniment. Komische Tito? You bet.

Still curious?

The Cirque du Soleil La clemenza di Tito (Munich, 15 February 2014)

Act I fin

  • Tito: Toby Spence
  • Vitellia: Kristine Opolais
  • Sesto: Tara Erraught
  • Annio: Angela Brower
  • Servillia: Hanna-Elisabeth Muller
  • Publio: Tareq Nazmi

Conductor: Kirill Petrenko | Director: Jan Bosse | Costumes: Victoria Behr
Bayerisches Staatsorchester | The Chorus of Bayerische Staatsoper

“Opolais doesn’t seem to be known for Mozart but based on the single clip I heard I am rooting for her to be a good Vitellia, because that voice sounds like it could be badass. […] The others sound fresh as well. It’s getting exciting. Now let’s hope it’s not a wigfest.”

That was what I wrote last month. Wouldn’t you know, I was right: vocally Opolais was bang on. On the other hand, it was a wigfest only not quite.

But let’s start with the beginning. As I was saying earlier, I bought a new laptop yesterday. I thought I was all set but nope, I forgot to get flash. As the time approached, I kept trying to get on but got no video. At length I realised my mistake. So now I was getting video on the trailer but where the hell was the actual livestream? Last time I watched one from Bayerische Staatsoper I had no problems but for the life of me I could not remember details. And of course I had that link saved on my now defunct laptop. So I just looked it up online and lo, there it was. The whole silliness cost me the overture and the Ma che, sempre l’istesso recit. As I tuned in they had just started Come ti piace, imponi. That was ok, I could work with that.

Vocally, Opolais and Erraught were doing jolly well. That gave me the opportunity to look around, for there was a lot to look and take in, which is why I listed the director and the costume designer. The show was a proper extravaganza: Colour explosion!