|Apollo and Daphne. Photo © Oper Frankfurt/Barbara Aumüller|
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Sunday, February 23, 2014
The last few weeks of my reading-on-public-transit time have been spent with "Warum Oper?" (Why Opera?) a collection of interviews with opera directors which was published in 2005. Barbara Beyer, herself an opera director, leads 14 conversations circling around this question. "Why opera?" quickly splits into "Why do you dedicate yourself to engaging with opera?" or "Why does (or should) society engage with opera?" The answers provided by those interviewed are remarkable for being both rigorously thought out and intensely personal. Working one's way through these conversations provides insights and opinions from a "who's who" of directors working primarily in German-speaking Europe: Calixto Bieito, Claus Guth, Peter Konwitschny, and Martin Kusej among them. Somewhat to my surprise, Karoline Gruber was the only woman whom Beyer interviewed. I loved reading the book, but its virtues make it difficult to summarize. Rather than working through a set list of questions, the conversations as reproduced here seem to flow from topic to topic, responding to issues raised, sometimes structured to provide contrast with (or responses to) other interviews in the book. As someone not very familiar with the history of movements and key figures in 20th-century opera direction, I enjoyed the background provided on previous generations of directors, and was surprised by the diversity of approaches and philosophies represented by those interviewed. I was also impressed by what all the directors (with the possible exception of Sebastian Baumgartner) shared: a deep passion for and trust in opera scores, and tireless willingness to challenge themselves.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
here) covering the work, though, the focus was on the patent weaknesses of the libretto. According to Girardi, Fontana committed "gross linguistic and metrical sins," forcing the composer to "attempt the impossible in making up for for plot deficiencies with music." Although it's not Puccini's most bold or sophisticated music, I did find the libretto harder to ignore in performance than in recordings, and often hard to excuse. The opening scene offers a representative example: the woodwinds, growing in number, evoke waking birds, while a breeze rustles through the strings; chimes are succeeded by a clear bell… and then the chorus comes in and tells us that it is dawn, that the last star has disappeared, and that a faraway bell is ringing. (I couldn't help contrasting it mentally with the gorgeous naturalism of Bohème's Act III opening.) The plot of Edgar centers on the eponymous hero, nominally torn between the soprano who sings aubades about almond blossoms and the mezzo who was raised by traveling Moors (!) and sings about survival of the fittest and about torrid kisses. He seems more interested in Byronic introspection than in either of them, though, symbolically burning down his house when he takes up with the mezzo at the end of Act I, going off to join nationalist endeavors as an act of repentance and self-purification for taking up with the mezzo at the end of Act II, and staging his own funeral as an aesthetic and social experiment in Act III. There's a baritone who hovers around the edges of the drama, being in love with the mezzo and leading the soldiers, in both cases for reasons which are unclear. At the work's climax, the mezzo is tricked by the tenor and then excoriated by the hypocritical chorus, so she stabs the soprano in the back. In short, it's the kind of drama that begs for a concert performance (or for a really good critical production.) And Frankfurt's concert performance was of a very fine caliber indeed.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
|On the outside looking in: the student Arkenholz|
Photo © Oper Frankfurt
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Johannes Martin Kränzle, ably partnered by Hilko Dumno at the piano, gave an interpretation of unusual dramatic vividness, creating emphasis in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. I was fascinated to be shown new things as Kränzle led the audience along the wanderer's snow-covered paths.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
|Order vs. the artist: Werther, Act I|
Photo © Oper Frankfurt/Wolfgang Runkel
Monday, January 20, 2014
Getting to hear Alban Berg's Wozzeck is always a treat, and on Saturday I had the opportunity to hear it paired with Manfred Gurlitt's Wozzeck, composed almost at the same time, and, in contrast to Berg's, almost never performed. Both works use the text of Georg Büchner's "dramatic fragment"; the composers selected and ordered the scenes differently, but a great deal of the material is shared by both operas. The bicentennial of Büchner, who lived in Darmstadt, provided the impetus for the city's opera house to present the works together, with a shared director and creative team. Berg was famously inspired by attending the belated stage premiere of Büchner's play in 1913; Gurlitt was in charge of the stage music for those Münich performances. Berg's opera had its sensational premiere at the Berliner Staatsoper in December of 1925; when Gurlitt's Wozzeck was first performed in Bremen the following April, under the composer's baton, newspaper headlines spoke of it as the "other" or the "second" Wozzeck. Although Gurlitt's opera may stand inevitably in the shadow of Berg's masterpiece, the Darmstadt presentation made a good case for it deserving better than oblivion.