Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Tannhäuser from Bayreuth 👍🏻

Conductor: Valery Gergiev 
Director: Tobias Kratzer

Tannhäuser: Stephen Gould
Landgraf Hermann: Stephen Milleing
Elisabeth: Lise Davidsen
Wolfram von Eschenbach: Markus Eiche
Walther von der Vogelweide: Daniel Behle
Venus:  Elena Zhidkova
Shepard:  Katharina Konradi

Tannhäuser from Bayreuth from 2019, which can be found in Opera on Video, is a confusing mix of images.  The first scene suggests that we add it to the caravan series, since we see Tannhäuser, Venus and her troop wandering around in an RV in the guise of a carnival.  Venus drives.  They live outside the law.  When the vehicle runs out of gas, they siphon some from a nearby vehicle.  They go through the Burger King drive through and steal their food.  This is not realistic since you always have to pay before they give you anything.  A policeman tries to stop them and Venus runs him down, making Tannhäuser uninterested in going on with her.

In the second scene the curtain opens on an exterior shot of the Bayreuther Festspielhaus.  He is met by a bunch of guys in black outfits drinking beer out of the bottle.  They recognize him in his clown outfit and welcome him back.  At the end of the scene Venus arrives in her RV.

Lise Davidsen is utterly magnificent.  I adore her "Dich teure Halle."  Our boy is back in normal clothes.  Or at least the clothes suitable for the singing contest that is to come.  People begin to enter.  Outside Venus and her gang are trying to get inside.  This must play like a film inside the hall.  Venus steals a suitable outfit from one of the dressing rooms and participates in the ceremony.  This whole thing is like a movie with cameras behind the scenes.  Is that the trend of the future?

The contestants sing about love back and forth until Tannhäuser tells the crowd that he has been in Venusberg.  The women in the crowd all escape except for Elisabeth, Venus removes her disguise, and her group all appear together with Tannhäuser.  Elisabeth prevents the men from killing him, and he thanks her.  The scene is strange.  While Tannhäuser thanks Elisabeth, he is also happy to see Venus.  Someone calls the police.  The Landgraf curses Tannhäuser for admitting he was with Venus.

I am enjoying the idea that the teure Halle is the Festspieshaus itself.  A song contest with pieces that are more like songs would have been nice.  The story is concerned with salvation, and the music is a bit droning.   Tannhäuser chooses to go to Rome with the pilgrims and the giant black man in drag drapes a rainbow flag over the harp that accompanied the singers.

This is almost the Tannhäuser as comedy version. Frei im Wollen! Frei im Thun! Frei im Geniessen!  R.W. [Free in the wanting! Free in the doing! Free to enjoy!]  This seems to be the opposing of two life views that make up the struggle of modern life:  The path of individual freedom represented by Venus and the path of adhering to social norms represented by Elisabeth.  The sign outside the Festspielhaus seems to place Wagner on the side of freedom.  Our hero vacillates back and forth between them.  One gives him a life of earthly pleasure and the other brings salvation to his soul.  He seems to want both.

It ends horribly.  In the libretto first Elisabeth dies, and then he sees her body borne past him, and Tannhäuser dies.  In this version Tannhäuser goes off with Venus, Wolfram sees his opportunity and dresses up in Tannhäuser's clown outfit so Elisabeth will think he is the man she loves.  He seduces her in this disguise, and later we see her covered in blood.  She seems to have killed herself.  This is truly hideous.  



I watched the film of Tannhäuser from Bayreuth in 2019 again because it is now playing again in Bayreuth in 2021 and I cannot go. Ekaterina Gubanova is Venus in the current version, and this may be an improvement.  I had already seen all the shocking parts, and was content to watch the whole opera.

I noticed the part where it is indeed Katarina Wagner who calls the cops, as a joke, I assume.  I saw that Wolfram puts on Heinrich's clown outfit, but isn't actually trying to fool Elisabeth.  She laughs and draws him into the van.  That puts a completely different spin on it.  It's too bad she doesn't love Wolfram who is quite charming.

The more I see and hear of Lise Davidsen, the more I admire, enjoy, respect and indeed love her.  She is very well suited to this role.  I am a long distance from having too much of her.  Es lebe die Lise.


Friday, July 23, 2021

Saariaho's Innocence

Conductor: Susanna Mälkki 
Production:  Simon Stone

Waitress:  Magdalena KoĹľená, 
Mother-in-law: Sandrine Piau,  \   Groom's parents
Father-in-law: Tuomas Pursio,  /
Bride: Lilian Farahani, 
Groom:  Markus Nykänen, 
Priest:  Jukka Rasilainen, 
Teacher:  Lucy Shelton

Kaaija Saariaho's new opera in 5 acts without intermission is called Innocence.  There is a film available from Aix en Provence which runs under 2 hours.  

Something terrible has happened before the start of the opera.  Research tells me that there are two groups:  The wedding party, and the teacher and her students who were present at a shooting that took place at their school 10 years before.  [It is strange to me that I am watching this on the 10th anniversary of a shooting in Oslo--irrelevant, or perhaps not.]  I found this in a review, and without it I would have had a hard time figuring out what was going on.

The father talks about another son he had and how he taught him how to shoot. This is dense and very complicated.  I think that they are reliving the tragedy.  This would be more possible with English subtitles. 

Attempt at a plot summary:  ten years ago at the International School in Helsinki one of the students stole his father's gun and shot a number of his fellow students.  Quite by accident the Waitress is serving a wedding in modern times.  Her daughter was one of the victims, and she recognizes the family.  The Groom is the brother of the boy who killed the others, including her daughter.  We learn that the murderer is out of jail and has been given another identity because he was a child at the time of the incident.  The Groom has not told his bride, whom he met in Bucharest.

The subtitles are in French, but I am hearing English occasionally.  One character speaks German. Some speak French.  Some characters change languages.  I hear other languages which I do not speak.

Some are wearing microphones:  the ones who only speak and the teacher.  The wedding party have no microphones.  I guess and suggest that this distinguishes people from the present from people from the past.

This is a story of modern times, a story where people think of shooting others around them.  Perhaps it is a suitable subject for an opera.  The thing I have seen recently which most resembles this is the recent production of Die Tote Stadt.  We seem to change from one reality to another with no transitions.  At the end everyone goes off on their own.

It's deeply gripping and very relevant.  I was drawn to it, but I would need more explanation and English subtitles.

Read more here.


It turns out it is more than a coincidence that I was reminded of the recent Korngold Die tote Stadt. The same guy directed both. Since I assign to the director the task of explaining the story, he is not focusing on that. 


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

New Fidelio Recording

Conductor - Marek Janowski,

Leonore - Lise Davidsen,
Florestan - Christian Elsner,
Rocco - Georg Zeppenfeld,
Don Fernando - Günther Groissböck,
Jaquino - Cornel Frey,

My copy of Beethoven's Fidelio with Lise Davidsen came in the mail today.  I loved her in the Royal Opera production, but there were a number of things that didn't quite succeed.  The men's chorus here is perfection.  O Welche Lust is a beautiful piece, beautifully done here. It wasn't very attractive at the Royal Opera.  On the first disc the voices are well balanced.

And then we come to Florestan and his big aria.  I'm used to Jonas Kaufmann, whom I once described as "a Florestan to die for," and Ben Heppner.  This one is too light, particularly when paired with Lise Davidsen.  She lightens her performance a bit.  I love Lise too much to turn it down, and she is incredible here.  Later in the act she lets it rip, and the Florestan can't really balance with her.  He's not that bad.  He just doesn't come up to Lise's standard.  This opera is hard to cast.  Who has come along to follow Jonas?  

In general I find this enjoyable.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Lise in Die Walküre at BSO 👍🏻


Lise Davidsen sang Act I of Die WalkĂĽre at the Bayerische Staatsoper today with Jonas Kaufmann, Georg Zeppenfeld, and Asher Fisch .  I broke down crying it was so wonderful.  How can I pretend to review this?  

We were stomping our feet at home along with the distanced live audience.  Orchestra, conductor and soloists were all outstanding.  Lise is the fiercest Sieglinde I've ever seen.


I originally posted this on May 13 this year.  I have just finished listening to it for the third time.  It's absolutely wonderful, with two of my great operatic loves singing.  There is a Die WalkĂĽre series at Bayreuth this summer with Lise but not Jonas.  It's not being streamed.  But how could I possibly love it as much as this?  Wagner has never gone so deep into my heart.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Porgy and Bess HD Rerun

Conductor...............David Robertson

Porgy...................Eric Owens
Bess....................Angel Blue

I saw Wednesday's rerun of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from the Metropolitan opera at my local theater.  I didn't enjoy it as much as the last time.  I think the sound in my theater was not adequate to the task of reproducing the voices. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

San Francisco Opera 2021-2022

The season has been announced for 2021-2022 at the San Francisco.  To reduce the number of people in the house at any given time, they are switching to the kind of season where only one opera plays at a time.  This change will result in only 5 operas.  We can only hope for a return to normal in the following season.


August 21, 27, 29; September 3, 5  Puccini's Tosca with the new music director Eun Sun Kim and starring Ailyn PĂ©rez, Michael Fabiano, and Alfred Walker.  This is an excellent group.  


October 14, 17, 20, 22, 26, 30  Beethoven's Fidelio in a new production by Matthew Ozawa, starring Elza van den Heever and Russell Thomas. Music Director Eun Sun Kim conducts.  These are also excellent singers.  Fidelio is one of my favorites.

November 21, 23, 27; December 1, 3  Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.  Henrik Nánási conducts an  ensemble featuring Nicole Cabell, Irene Roberts, Benjamin Bliss, John Brancy, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and Nicole Heaston.  This is part 2 of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy production by director Michael Cavanagh.  I saw part 1 in 2019 here.  It seemed to work well.


June 4, 10, 12, 15, 18, 21, 26; July 2, 2022  Mozart's Don Giovanni conducted by Bertrand de Billy and starring Étienne Dupuis, Luca Pisaroni, Adela Zaharia, and Carmen Giannattasio.  This is part 3 of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy production by director Michael Cavanagh. 

June 14, 17, 19, 23, 25; July 1, 3, 2022   Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber I saw this opera in 2016 at the world premier.  They have not provided much additional information.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Donald Pippin has Died (1925-2021)

The one and only Donald Pippin has died.  When I was a young person living in the Bay Area I went to see him perform Handel operas at the Spaghetti Factory in North Beach.  His gimmick was to perform the interesting parts with a small orchestra and talk between the numbers to explain what was going on.  His explanations were much funnier than the actual stories.

I even performed in one.  I was in Julius Caesar where I played Tolomeo while Caesar was sung by the magnificent Stephanie Friedman.  Standing on my left, towering over me, was John del Carlo who later sang at the Met.

Donald was much loved.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

West Edge Postponed

2021 has arrived and here is the West Edge Opera summer postponed from last year.  The text is the same, but the pictures are new and dates and location are added.

This is the publicity for the 2020 season of West Edge opera:
 Leoš Janáček’s  Katya Kabanova
 Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell
 Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo

August 6, 2019

West Edge Opera’s Mark Streshinsky | Credit: Mark Mayfield

While West Edge Opera has your attention, as their season rolls out, the company has announced next year’s season. No surprise, it’s just as ambitious as this year’s season. The festival opens a week earlier, July 25, 2020, instead of the first week in August and, just as with the current productions, you will have to wait for Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky to do location scouting to discover where the shows will be held, so stay tuned.

As usual, there is no sign of a top 50 opera anywhere, which is why some of us regard WEO so highly. However, there is a lot of great music in the works: the 2020 festival opens with Leoš Janáček’s brilliant, realistic drama Katya Kabanova with soprano Carrie Hennessy in the title role. This is a show that will challenge the company on a number of levels, but WEO has waded into these waters before, producing Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2016. If they succeed, it will be one of the highlights of the Bay Area’s musical year.   July 24, Aug 1 & 5

The contemporary opera that the company always offers will be Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd and premiered by Opera Philadelphia in 2017. The opera is the third collaboration by Puts and Campbell, following Silent Night (2012) and The Manchurian Candidate (2015). Despite the fact that the opera is about a grisly murder, it is, the authors insist, darkly comic, and Puts believed it was his best theater work up to that time. His tonal idiom and command of period style should work well in this tale of a music hall singer of the 1890s who is accused of murdering her surgeon husband. July 25, 30 & Aug 7

Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo (1667), from the anything-goes Venetian opera houses of the 17th century is the third show of the season. The tale of a perverse and depraved Roman emperor, it almost feels like a modern show (an operatic Caligula, maybe) and in fact it never got its Venetian premiere, but not because it was too risquĂ©. (It was replaced by an opera on the same subject by a different composer.) Maybe it was that Cavalli was too old-fashioned at the time, but in the 21st century, audiences have come around to Cavalli. The show has major productions at Theatre de la Monnaie (Belgium, 2004), the Aspen Festival (2007), Gotham Chamber Opera (NY, 2013), and Paris Opera (2016/17). Not bad for a modern opera. The West Edge production will star countertenor Randall Scotting in the title role, a part he can only hope leaves him clothed most of the time.   July 31, Aug 6 & 8

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

BB.  This will all take place in The Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda in 2021.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Yannick Movie


I went to my local theater to see the movie from the Metropolitan Opera called Yannick: An Artist’s Journey, a new documentary from filmmaker Susan Froemke about Yannick NĂ©zet-SĂ©guin, the Met's new music director.  It shows his life in music throughout his whole life.  His childhood piano teacher is shown.  She's very proud.

I liked it very much.  They never forgot to show his love for music.  They showed a lot of rehearsal scenes, which for me is a joy.  They showed him rehearsing Diana Damrau in La Traviata and the whole cast in The Dialogues of the Carmelites.  This last was particularly enjoyable.  Try to see it.

Addendum.  It went by on the screen very quickly, but Yannick conducted as his Met debut the Carmen I loved so much.