Friday, October 25, 2013

Tannhäuser: dem unsren sei dein Lied nicht fern

Desire and the dangers of female archetypes: Tannhäuser Act III. Photo (c) Oper Frankfurt

I only made it into Thursday's performance of Tannhäuser by the skin of my teeth, nabbing the last rush ticket about four minutes before curtain. Frankfurt's house was packed, eager, and informed, respectfully silent during the performance, and busily chatting about this and other Tannhäusers during the intervals. The adrenaline rush of ticket-getting may have contributed to my sensitivity, but I found the treatment of the score by the orchestra under Constantin Trinks never less than exciting and compelling. Although I did not find all aspects of Vera Nemirova’s production equally convincing, it was both intellectually sophisticated and viscerally moving. Its greatest achievement was in handling Wagner’s presentation of dichotomous feminine ideals, exposing the perniciousness and inevitable violence of such attitudes. This was achieved by teasing out many of the other ideas in the score (Dresden version) and libretto. I appreciated that religious faith was not treated as intrinsically foolish or deluded, as I appreciated Nemirova’s refusal to treat the sentimental piety of the text as though it were both profound and axiomatic. Instead of a fictionalized thirteenth century, Nemirova creates a fictionalized 1960s for the drama of desire, conviction, and community. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Interval adventures: Berlin

It's been long enough since my last opera outing that I'm starting to actively plan the next one (Tannhäuser on Thursday, if the train schedule and the rush ticket situation are favorable,) but in the interim, I've spent a thoroughly pleasurable weekend in Berlin. Although it didn't involve actual opera attendance, it did involve many conversations about opera with my hostess, and the visiting of several musical landmarks. A stroll along Kurfürstendamm took us past the former residences of musicians, including Rudolf Nelson. I haven't found any of his operetta music on YouTube, but it does have his 1924 shimmy, "Der Harem von Kurfürstendamm."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lieben, hassen, hoffen, zagen: Ariadne auf Naxos in Frankfurt

Artistic philosophies go head to head. Photo (c) Oper Frankfurt/Monika Rittershaus
Brigitte Fassbaender's new production of Ariadne auf Naxos for Frankfurt's opera house has me falling in love with Strauss's opera all over again. It works on multiple narrative levels, as perhaps any production of Ariadne must if it is to work at all. The hectic backstage activity of the prologue is organized around the poignantly relevant struggles of opera to function as heilige Kunst when treated as commercial product (musikalisches Handwerk, as the Haushofmeister dismissively puts it.) The production was musically sensitive and creative throughout, beginning during the overture with a dance only half seen. The curtain (black, bisected with a red line) was raised just enough to show us feet and calves, some instantly identifiable, some not, dancing waltzes and Charlestons in shifting pairings, at least one of which was of two women.  When the curtain is fully raised on the house of the richest man in Vienna, we're in the improvised back stage area, with half a dozen dressing rooms opening off a central hall. There's a suggestion of surrealism provided by a painting on the wall (see above) and lines that draw the eye strongly. Thus, while there were often multiple vignettes occurring simultaneously, I never felt overwhelmed.

The mercurial musical moods of the prologue were handled deftly: the conversation (if it can be called that when people are talking past each other) between the Haushofmeister and the Musiklehrer was unusually moving, but there were also moments of sly humor. There is at least the possibility that while the Komponist muses on art after his altercation with the lackey, absolutely everyone else is having sex behind closed doors. Although there are moments of sympathy between the artistic factions, tempers are running high when the entrance of the guests forces the end of the prologue. When the curtain opens again on the opera, everything was just different enough that I asked myself whether it was a dream landscape; I don't think it was, necessarily, but it was reminiscent of one, perhaps by Hitchcock, where individuals are forced into unaccustomed relationships with their surroundings. Ariadne's thread, that symbol of navigating perils, has been broken in pieces, and the denizens of the island make to mend it. At the outset, the efforts of the commedia troupe to insert themselves in the action are grotesquely miscalculated, but gradual adjustment takes place so that genuine interactions become the basis of a rapprochement. This may sound banal, but was sensitive and nuanced. The Komponist's vision, of course, is not fully realized; but working together, the artists--with the formerly opposed groups integrated--achieve something like transcendence.
Perfecting perspective: divinity of music. Photo (c) Oper Frankfurt/Monika Rittershaus

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday Special: October

Autumnal weather has set in, here in Mainz, and given every second person (according to the grocery store cashier who rang up my ginger tea and honey) a cold. So, for now, have this vintage video of Tchaikovsky's "October:"

The next item on the tentative opera-going schedule is Oper Frankfurt's Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by none other than Brigitte Fassbaender. Camilla Nylund will sing the title role; I will be especially interested in what becomes of Claudia Mahnke's Komponist.


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