Sunday, March 29, 2015
“Michael Volle is not into bling,” begins an article in ACT-O, the glossy magazine of the Grand Théâtre de Genève. The piece goes on to describe Mr. Volle’s recent emergence as one of the world’s leading bass-baritones, who just last year made his Met Opera debut in Arabella and this season sang what I hear was a formidable Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. His performance was described as “tall, sturdy and commanding,” qualities necessary for a role like Hans Sachs but perhaps less associated with renowned exponents of the German lied. Yet Mr. Volle arrived in Geneva—during a frenzied week here with the opening of the United Nations Human Rights Council and tense negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme—for a contemplative evening of Schubert. He was accompanied by the veteran Austrian pianist Helmut Deutsch, a master of this repertoire (and Jonas Kaufmann’s loyal partner in recital). Geneva is a unique town. Audiences are comprised of the upper echelons of the business and diplomatic communities, and they seem highly knowledgable about music. Yet in contrast to Paris—where patrons will stomp and cheer—they rarely offer the performers energetic feedback. While their response to an enthralling production of Porgy and Bess here was somewhat tepid, they seemed to detect something special in this intimate evening with Volle/Deutsch. (Mr. Volle last appeared here ten years ago as Mozart’s Count Almaviva). And whereas Schubert’s song cycles have lately been subjected to innovative stagings, here in Geneva a bare stage more than sufficed to sustain our engagement. The Geneva audience has been fairly spoiled on the Schubert front. Last year Kaufmann served up his brooding Winterreise, so Mr. Volle knew he would be performing for a crowd familiar with the sublime simplicity of art song. He chose the lesser-known cycle, Schwanengesang, which Schubert wrote just months prior to his death, and the ambitious, 20-minute long Der Taucher (“The Diver”). This latter piece—a Schiller ballad about a page who dives into an abyss to retrieve the king’s golden beaker—requires both dynamic flexibility and sprechgesang abilities, and Volle was able to put his operatic experience to good use. As usual he was gracefully supported by Mr. Deutsch, whose technique evokes the serenity of a slow glide in a kayak. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwnLpp99F2g If Der Taucher suggests dramatic presence, Schwanengesang requires a more intimate quality, as well as a certain wisdom and gravitas—in sharp contrast to the curiosity of the protagonist in Die schöne Müllerin—which, as an aside, was the first cycle I learned when I began singing lieder. It changed my life. Unlike Schubert’s other two cycles, this one combines the work of three poets. Volle began with six pieces by Heinrich Heine, from the sweet Das Fischermädchen to the self-castigating Der Atlas, all performed with sturdiness and sensitivity. Despite a heavy operatic load of Wagner and Strauss in his day job, Volle managed to scale down his voice appropriately and whatever may have been lacking in purity of tone and security of the higher tessitura was more than made up by his authoritative presence—no distracting mannerisms, physical or vocal—and mastery of his native tongue. Following an intermission, we heard the three beautiful poems by Johann Gabriel Seidl, and then finally the most well-known set in Schwanengesang, the seven settings of works by Ludwig Rellstab. These include the ingenious pairing of the serene Frühlingssehnsucht, the seductive Ständchen, and the anguished Aufenthalt. These three pieces alone demand tremendous emotional and musical range, and Volle/Deutsch offered sublime interpretations. As Mr. Volle’s star rises in the opera world, we can only hope he will sustain his engagement in lieder. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aP1F4lFXsc On my way to Porgy and Bess at the Grand Théâtre de Genève—a tour production by the New York Harlem Theatre—I could not help but recall my first and last exposure to this monumental Gershwin work, Audra McDonald’s Tony Award-winning performance as Bess in Diane Paulus’ controversial Broadway production. The creative team behind that production found the original characters were not “fully realized” () and sought to ‘flesh out’ the dramatic personae of Catfish Row. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Rw_OhQbLpI The team’s quest to “make the piece relevant for the 21st century” offended purists like Stephen Sondheim but was nevertheless an unsurprising strategy. A predominately “musical theater” approach will naturally put more emphasis on dramatic realism than an operatic rendition, as opera is an art form in which suspension of disbelief remains essentially non-negotiable. And while it is true that Paulus’ production featured unusually well-developed characterizations—and McDonald’s intense performance as Bess, a drugged whore turned loyal partner to a disabled man, remains one of the most unforgettable performances of my theatregoing life—the experience was hampered by a paltry orchestra and amplified voices. Gershwin’s score is simply too great for the efficient eight-show-a-week treatment. So it was with considerable excitement that I attended Baayork Lee’s staging, with a cast of legit opera singers headed by Alvy Powell (who has sung Porgy more than 800 times ) and Indira Mahajan. The true strength of this production, though, was the boisterous ensemble, whose members form a giant force of communal conscience while each character has moments of emotional nakedness and musical expression. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRf_kcCEdYM Ms. Mahajan stands out in more ways than one when she arrives in African-American Catfish Row. Her singing was big—Aida seems to be the only other role she sings frequently—but also engaging. Mr. Powell’s unparalleled experience with the role of Porgy was evident and his performance was dramatically and vocally satisfying. Powell fully uncovered Porgy’s journey and this was reflected in his vocal trajectory—from cracking opening lines to a tremendous, colla voce, “Oh Lawd, I’m on my way.” He and Mahajan made a rapturous pair in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” a duet that never fails to move me with its Puccinian sweep. Mari-Yan Pringle’s “My Man’s Gone Now” was transcendent. While I enjoyed the mischievous Billy Porter-style charm of Jermaine Smith’s Sportin’ Life, his bright tenor simply did not fill the (fairly small) house. At first I wondered how Geneva’s resident orchestra, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, would manage Gershwin’s jazz-infused score, but they were in fact touring the US, and the New York Harlem Theatre’s own orchestra filled the pit. They certainly understood the style and did not hesitate to swing in “There’s a boat dat’s leavin’ soon for New York.” While in the Broadway production I felt a stronger connection to the characters, this performance offered an opportunity to bask in the glories of Gershwin’s masterpiece as performed by a engaging cast whose comfort with one another and experience with their roles was highly evident.
Sonya Yoncheva in Faust, The Royal Opera © ROH/Bill Cooper, 2014 Former Jette Parker Young Artists and an array of Company-affiliated artists have been shortlisted as finalists for the International Opera Awards 2015 . The awards, which are now in their third year, celebrate and promote excellence in opera by honouring the achievements of performers, producers and backstage teams. The winners will be announced at a gala dinner on 26 April 2015. In the Female Singer category, nominees include Sonya Yoncheva , who returns to The Royal Opera this May as Violetta in Richard Eyre ’s production of La traviata ; Anna Netrebko , also returning to The Royal Opera this May as Mimì in John Copley ’s beloved production of La bohème ; and Joyce DiDonato , who is also nominated in the CD (Operatic Recital) category for her album Stella di Napoli . David Butt Philip , who was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artist 2012–14, and Justina Gringyte , a Young Artist 2011–13, have been nominated in the Young Singer category, alongside Angel Blue , who recently performed at an ROH Insights Event . Designer Es Devlin , whose credits with The Royal Opera include Don Giovanni , Les Troyens and Salome , as well as the spectacular sets currently on stage for John Fulljames ’s new production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny , is nominated in the Designer category. Other nominees in this category include Michael Levine (Der fliegende Holländer , Dialogues des Carmélites ) and Paul Stein (Falstaff ). Shortlisted directors include Richard Jones (Anna Nicole , Gloriana ), Christof Loy (Tristan und Isolde , Ariadne auf Naxos ) and Robert Carsen , whose production of Falstaff returns this July. Robert also directed the award-winning Dialogues des Carmélites, staged by The Royal Opera in spring 2014. Claus Guth ’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten , a co-production between The Royal Opera and La Scala, Milan , has been nominated in the Richard Strauss Anniversary category. The Readers’ Award is the only category that will be decided by public vote . The nominees in this category are Piotr Beczała , Ferruccio Furlanetto, Susan Graham, Jonas Kaufmann , Aleksandra Kurzak , Mariusz Kwiecień , Karita Mattila and Nina Stemme . The winners will be announced on 26 April 2015. View the full list of finalists .
Nadezhda Karyazina © Askonas Holt, 2014 ‘Madama Butterfly is a very special opera. It is so full of love, emotion and tragedy that, whenever I listen to or rehearse it, I always want to cry,’ says Jette Parker Young Artist Nadezhda Karyazina . ‘It was written a century ago, but it is still relevant to us, and still will be in 100 years’ time; a story about love and loss will always mean something.’ Nadezhda, who joined the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at the start of the 2013/14 Season, is covering the role of Suzuki in Puccini ’s iconic tragedy, a role she has never sung before. ‘It really depends on the opera, but I usually allow at least two months before rehearsals start to learn the music. There is just so much to do when you learn a new role. You have to know the whole opera back to front, translating the text and working with the coaches on the music and the stagecraft’, she explains. ‘The sessions with the music coaches are so valuable. At Covent Garden, they really do have the best coaches in the world, and then you are on stage with superstars like Diana Damrau , Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Jonas Kaufmann . It's amazing!’ The principal cast for Madama Butterfly includes Kristine Opolais as Cio-Cio-San, Brian Jagde as Pinkerton and Enkelejda Shkosa as Suzuki, with Nicola Luisotti conducting. ‘Covering a role like this is great. The cast is fantastic and so it's such a pleasure to see how they work and how professional they are’, she says. ‘As a cover, I will have about two weeks in rehearsals, and will observe every rehearsal on the stage - you can learn a lot from your colleagues! Kristine Opolais, who I worked with for Manon Lescaut , is just amazing, as are Enkelejda Shkosa and conductor Nicola Luisotti. I’m really looking forward to it.’ Madama Butterfly, which opens on 20 March, is one of Puccini’s best-loved works. A critique on imperialism, the opera was conceived as an East-meets-West clash, something reflected in Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier ’s production. ‘Suzuki isn’t the lead female role, but she's always on stage and so you can see how her character develops’, says Nadezhda. ‘The opera mixes two very different cultures, and her reaction to the culture clash is interesting.’ Since joining the Programme, Nadezhda has performed on the Main Stage in productions including Francesca Zambello ’s naturalistic production of Carmen , Jonathan Kent ’s contemporary new production of Manon Lescaut , and the 2014/15 Season-opener Rigoletto . ‘At the beginning of the 2014/15 Season, I sang Maddalena in Rigoletto, and it was relayed live on BP Big Screens around the country’, she says. ‘It was so exciting to know that the performance was being watched across the UK. It was a real highlight for me as Maurizio Benini was conducting a fantastic cast, and the energy and support from the team was amazing.’ Madama Butterfly will be Nadezhda’s last Royal Opera production of the 2014/15 Season: this June, she is expecting her first child: ‘Of course, I have been tired at times in rehearsals, but the baby has helped me in so many ways – both performing and in rehearsals. It has helped me find where to push with my breath, and I feel much calmer and more relaxed.’ Rachel Kelly as Javotte, Nadezhda Karyazina as Rosette, Simona Mihai as Poussette and Christophe Mortagne as Guillot de Morfontaine in Manon © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014 Toby Spence as Tamino, Nadezhda Karyazina as Second Lady, Sinéad Mulhern as First Lady and Claudia Huckle as Third Lady © ROH. Mark Douet 2015 Nadezhda Karyazina and Michele Gamba perform for families © ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke Nadezhda Karyazina as Léonor in the JPYA Summer Performance © ROH / Clive Barda 2014 William Shimell as De Brétigny, Nadezhda Karyazina as Rosette, Rachel Kelly as Javotte, Simona Mihai as Poussette and Christophe Mortagne as Guillot de Morfontaine in Manon © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014 Nadezhda Karyazina performing a recital at Windsor Castle © Simon Way 2014 Luis Gomes as Fernand and Nadezhda Karyazina as Léonor in the JPYA Summer Performance © ROH / Clive Barda 2014 Nadezhda was born and raised in Moscow, studying musical theatre at the Russian Academy of the Theatrical Arts in Moscow, before going on to train at the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre . Yet despite her comprehensive musical education, Nadezhda is the first of her family to study music. ‘Believe it or not, both my parents are engineers and my brother is a journalist’, she says. ‘Although my mother always dreamed of music, I'm the first singer in the family! I saw my first opera when I was six years old: Tchaikovsky ’s Mazeppa at the Bolshoi Theatre. After the show, I said immediately that I would be an opera singer.’ Since graduating, the operatic stage has never been far away for Nadezhda. Prior to joining the JPYA Programme, she spent two years as a Young Artist with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, followed by six months with the Landestheater ensemble in Salzburg. In September, she takes up a contract with Hamburg State Opera . ‘I think it’s very important for young artists to keep working as much as possible, to always learn new roles and be on the stage’, she explains. ‘And no matter where you are, if your performance is from the heart, you can always connect with the audience.’ Madama Butterfly runs from 20 March to 11 April 2015. Very few tickets remain, though returns may become available and 67 day tickets available on the morning of the performance. It is a co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, is sponsored by Coutts and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mr and Mrs Christopher W.T. Johnston and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund. The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme is supported by Oak Foundation. Find out more about the Programme .
The second installment about my German trip went from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. Now I will go from Stuttgart to Munich and remain there, except for two not-to-be missed excursions. At only 30 km. from Stuttgart you can visit Ludwigsburg Palace, "the Swabian Versailles", built between 1704 and 1733 by order of Eberhard Ludwig, Duke of Württemberg; it is enormous, impressive and beautiful. From there to Ulm, with its imposing Cathedral, boasting the highest tower in Germany. Then, a short visit to Augsburg, in whose majestic Maximilian Strasse you can see admirable buildings, including the house of the Fugger, the most influential bankers of the Renaissance . And finally, Munich (München), the capital of mighty Bavaria, after Berlin the most important city in Germany. I have loved it ever since my first visit back in 1961, for it offers everything for the culturally inclined tourist: the vast Residenz Palace, essential museums (the Old and the New Pinakoteken – picture galleries- plus the marvelous Lenbach full of Kandinskys), beautiful Baroque churches, the largest beer hall in the world, first-rate urbanisation and an intense operatic and concert life. As so many of German cities, Munich was heavily bombed in WWII, but it rebuilt in just two decades. In 1961 the big Neoclassic National Theater hadn´t been quite finished. But then the Opera Company functioned in the Prinzregententheater (Theater of the Regent Prince), and I saw for the first and last time that charming German version of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" written by Otto Nicolai. It was in 1964 that I was completely bowled over operatically: the National Theater had been inaugurated months before, and the centenary of Richard Strauss´ birth was being celebrated abundantly, including operas I saw only then: "Die Aegyptische Helena" (never done at the Colón) and the bucolic and warm "Daphne" (only seeen here in 1949). Plus "Elektra", "Salome", a fantastic "Arabella" with Della Casa and Rothenberger. And a gem in a gem: "Capriccio" at the Rococo Cuvilliés Theater contained in the Residenz. About ten years later, my visit was marked by a proficient rather than memorable "Marriage of Figaro" at the Nationaltheater, plus a truly memorable experience with Karl Richter´s Bach Ensemble: the St. John Passion at the vast concert hall of the gigantic Deutsches Museum. A couple of paragraphs about two memorable excursions in my current trip. The first was a stroke of luck: a special connection allowed me to visit Strauss´ home at Garmisch, the lovely village in the Bavarian Alps; his grandson, an elderly doctor, led a group through this beautiful house, chockful of souvenirs and exciting material for Strauss scholars. To boot, from there I visited the highest German mountain, the Zugspitze; the belvedere is close to the top and gives marvelous views all around. And then, of course, the Königsschlösser in the Alps: 130 Km. from Munich, you can visit two splendid King´s Castles: Hohenschwangau, built by Bavaria´s Maximilian II (1832-6), and the ultrafamous Neuschwanstein that Disney took as a model for Sleeping Beauty´s Castle, born of the unbridled imagination of Louis II and with references to Wagner. Back to Munich and opera. I had been there for Strauss´centenary, and on July 2014 I was there for the 150th anniversary of his birth; it was a strange sensation. Munich stages an Opera Festival every July, culminating the year´s operatic schedule. Connoisseurs combine it with Salzburg. As happens in Berlin or Vienna, they offer a mighty succession of operas during the season (late September to late July). To mention just a few standouts during July: Rossini´s "Guillaume Tell", Strauss´ "Ariadne auf Naxos" and "Die Frau ohne Schatten" , Donizetti´s "Lucrezia Borgia" with Gruberova, Verdi´s "Macbeth" with Netrebko. Plus Liederabende (song recitals) with Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Thomas Hampson, Anja Harteros. I had an exercise in contrasts: a wonderfully staged "Der Rosenkavalier" (Strauss) by the unbeatable team of Otto Schenk and Jürgen Rose, with a pretty good cast; and an absolutely horrid staging of Verdi´s "La forza del destino" with a memorable cast. The National Theater is huge: stalls plus five floors. The Strauss was done with impeccable taste and charm and sung by real pros. I especially liked Alice Coote as Octavian and Peter Rose as Ochs, but Soile Isokoski (the Marschallin) and Golda Schultz (Sophie) did well. A young conductor, Constantin Trinks, showed a promissing talent. The Orchestra is, naturally, first-rate. I find it amazing that this great theatre allows such a misjudged and ugly production of Verdi´s work, signed by Martin Kusej and Martin Zehetgruber, and I pity the great singers that have to accept it (they should rebel). Under the professional but rather tame conducting by Asher Fisch, three leading singers were as good a cast as possible nowadays. Let me state it unequivocally: Jonas Kaufmann is the greatest tenor we have: incredible musicality, acting ability, beautiful personal timbre: he has it all. And Anja Harteros and Ludovic Tézier are certainly powerful artists of vivid presence and splendid voices. Finally, this time at the Prinzregententheater, a bad staging of the first important opera in history: Monteverdi´s "Orfeo". Well conducted by the specialist Ivor Bolton, and with Christian Gerhaher as a commanding protagonist, it was ruined by a willful and silly production by David Bösch. So Munich opera is currently uneven, it doesn´t have the steady quality it showed a half century ago.For Buenos Aires Herald
Jonas Kaufmann as Andrea Chénier in Andrea Chénier © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015 The nominations for the Olivier Awards 2015 have been announced. The ceremony will take place at the Royal Opera House on Sunday 12 April. Two Royal Opera productions – Dialogues Des Carmélites and Die Frau ohne Schatten – have been nominated for Best New Opera production. Also nominated in this category are English National Opera's The Mastersingers of Nuremburg and Benvenuto Cellini . Jonas Kaufmann has been nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Opera for his performances in The Royal Opera's Andrea Chénier and Manon Lescaut . The Company's offsite programme at Shakespeare's Globe's Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and the Roundhouse (L'Ormindo and Orfeo , respectively); the Chorus of Welsh National Opera for their performance in Moses und Aron at Covent Garden; and director Richard Jones for his ENO productions of The Girl of The Golden West , The Mastersingers of Nuremburg and Rodelinda are also nominated in the same category. Christopher Wheeldon has been nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for his Royal Ballet production of The Winter's Tale . Other high profile nominees include the Young Vic who received the most nominations of any theatre with 11, the Almeida's West End transfer of King Charles III , and the RSC 's adaptation of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. View the full list of nominees Highlights of the ceremony will be broadcast on ITV after the ceremony on 12 April 2015.
Jonas Kaufmann has canceled his performance as Don José in Bizet’s Carmen this Saturday, March 7 matinee, as he is still ill with the flu and unable to travel to New York. Yonghoon Lee, who substituted for Kaufmann at last evening’s performance, has agreed to sing Don José on Saturday.
Great opera singers