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Great Names and Beautiful Voices at the Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera)

Monday, 23 July 2012 , ora 13.13
As a tradition, the Munich Opera Festival proposes extremely attractive guidelines, music lovers having the opportunity to attend, in full summer, grand performers of the international lyrical stage, next to young interpreters who are already making a stand. I had the opportunity to be at the Bayerische Staatsoper for a few 'full' days, returning, night after night, in the theatre's elegant hall, anxious to hear (again) beautiful voices and possibly, to discover (once more) true artists.

Three Romanian Artists in the Cast of 'La Bohème'

A long time before, the shows with 'La Bohème' were sold out, the main attraction being, obviously, soprano Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi, but with an entire cast incredibly homogenous under all aspects, that we have applauded, after a long time, a solid 'crew', with soloist close to the age of the characters, with quality voices and good acting skills, and especially, very expressive. Under this aspect, the young bohemians in the garret won the audience, baritone Levente Molnar being very impressive as Marcello, bass baritone Goran Juric bringing, in Colline, a warm and rich voice (but who sang in force the famous 'aria of the vecchia zimarra' (old coat)), baritone Christian Rieger was very persuasive as Schaunard, and tenor Joseph Calleja proved, this time, to be much more involved in his part, making a believable interpretation of Rodolfo, as well as singing with confidence and even grandeur.

I had the opportunity to see Angela Gheorghiu once again in an important role for her career, performing with self confidence and easiness, tackling the character closer to a happy midinette, without inhibitions, not 'ill' at all, ready to subdue (she herself blowing out the candle as if especially to incite the romance with Rodolfo), different from the sensitive and discreet Mimi we've always known, it was not until the third and fourth act that she live the drama of the young woman who suffers and loves desperately; also surprising was the contrast between her frivolous behaviour and her high neck gowns (but adequate for the 'classical' vision of the character), and in the last act, when she is dying, to wear an extremely low cut gown... But she performed well, even though I have not understood the motive behind some of her poses, I have appreciated the certainty and freshness of her voice. In these conditions, Musetta became quite similar to Mimi, Laura Tatulescu being, in her turn, a vibrant voice, thus 'matching' from this point of view also, something that was quite noticeable in the group moments. Actually, the entire cast was incredibly united, with vocal data perfectly balanced in sonority. A faded Benoit (Alfred Kuhn), similar to Alcindoro (Tareq Nazmi), without any humour, a choir that performed well, they have collaborated with a wonderful orchestra, but with a conductor (Dan Ettinger) who chose different tempos from the ones desired by the soloists, resulting in enough unbalances and hastiness; still, the show had fluency and density, energy, poetry and drama, which unwound in the traditional but very inspired direction of Otto Schenk, as years before, bringing forth the atmosphere in the garret or of the foggy winter morning in act three, as well as the merriness and bustle of the crowd in act two, where I have finally seen, for the first time, the 'depth' of the street, the image of the stage not being blocked in the background by the wall of the tavern, as usual.

Applauses and standing ovations have rewarded, for minutes on end, a beautiful performance, in which three Romanian artists interpreted, all incredibly valued, and rightly so, by an enthusiast audience.

The Famous Jonas Kaufmann and Schubert's 'Winterreise (Winter Journey)'

The next day, the hall was besieged by those who wanted to hear the famous Jonas Kaufmann once again, this time in a lied programme, performing, in the company of the excellent pianist Helmut Deutsch, the song cycle 'Winterreise' by Schubert, many discovering now that the tenor has, aside from a performing technique, a malleable voice, an intelligence of the song, an understanding of the meanings which every word has, but also the capacity to portray the feelings, turmoil and thoughts included in the superb miniatures. For more than an hour, with a calm and reserved attitude on stage, Kaufmann persuaded that he is an artist in the best sense of the word, conveying the adequate expression only through vocal inflections, with an impeccable restraint and knowledge, without resorting to 'popular' artifices and effects.

I admired his talent and style, his logic and simplicity, but I did not feel that obvious state I have expected for from such a performance, perhaps because he is cerebral, he is less emotionally involved, but maybe also because, and this is something unbelievable from a Munich audience, almost all spectators coughed loudly after each lied, and some even during the performance, which certainly made impossible to keep the general balance; what is extraordinary is that, in the end, when the enthusiastic ovations recalled the performers on stage several times... no one coughed or blew their noses loudly!...

'Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann)' - A Performance to Be Perfected

The series of the famous tenors continued on the following evening as well, when in the title role of 'Les Contes d'Hoffmann' performed the beloved Rolando Villazon, after a prolonged absence, back 'in shape', confidently performing the demanding score, even if his voice did not have the same amplitude as in the past; actually, even his stage play, usually so graphic, did not have the expected complexity and variety. But also, the truth is that Richard Jones's direction was not very permissive, underlining the attitude of the more-often-than-not drunk poet, with a dishevelled aspect and messy movements, drowning his sorrows in liqueur (also) at the end of every love story. What's more, he had his back on Olympia almost the whole time, listening to her aria sitting down, without any trace of involvement. And still, his personal charm captivated...

I was happy to listen again to the young soprano, Brenda Rae, an exceptional Olympia, playing with her voice as I have seldom heard, managing to portray the character simply with her brilliant and expressive performance, only raising her hands, while the doll's wooden legs were ingeniously handled from inside the podium where she was seated.

Unfortunately, Olga Mykytenko, even though she displayed an ample and qualitative voice, was tumultuous and nearly aggressive as Antonia, 'forgetting' that she portrayed a sensitive and very ill young woman in loved, almost always singing powerfully, running a lot but without any expression, while Giulietta, another soprano - Anna Virovlansky - went through her part with a bland, slightly discordant voice and with a pale stage presence. I did not understand why, not even in Nicklaus's case, a mezzo soprano was not casted, Angela Brower having a fairly coarse soprano voice, slightly flexible, 'befitting' a more manly approach. Bass John Relyea was very good in the four evil parts, having a distinct personality and a dramatic pithiness, his generous, round and petulant voice, being doubled by an imposing stage presence, the director forcing him to assist, also unmoving, during the prologue and epilogue, at the entire action of ... the rest of the cast.

The unique design of a simple chamber adapts itself from one act to another by changing the 'wallpaper' and by including some minimal stage props (stage design Giles Cadle); the costumes were nice, distinctly characterizing every character (sketched by Buki Shiff), the funny idea of the curtain where a pipe is placed (from which volumes of smoke draws the name of every 'conquest', which before the ending act return to the pipe) which, through repetition, becomes commonplace; the man choir did not rise to the challenge, moving as if automated, freezing in frame and then, in 'Olympia's act', the whole ensemble seems like a class of pupils visiting the dolls workshop, with boys in short trousers and 'girls' (all overweight) with pastel dresses (choir maestro Sören Eckhoff). As for the rest, honest soloists but without substance, in an unequal production regarding the direction and vocal levels, with only three 'peaks' which, justifiably, earned thunderous applauses, just like conductor Marc Piollet, who accurately coordinated the relationship pit-stage, trying to give the spirit of the French music to a score where many pages that were generally 'cut' before were now 'open' (which proved once again that they were superfluous), while giving up on others.

Three evening with great names, scanty halls, with an insisting demand of 'extra tickets', in a Festival irresistible for any opera lover.

Anca Florea
Translated by Florina Sămulescu
MTTLC, Bucharest University