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Music & theater today

Herbert Fritsch looking for the joke in Strauss's «Intermezzo»

Grimaces, puns and a brightly colored concert grand for a composed marriage crisis. Herbert Fritsch staged "Intermezzo" at the Basel Theater, one of the most famous operas by Richard Strauss.

You can't get more pink, especially not for a concert grand piano that looks like a toy instead of its normal, elegant, black, glossy shape. And of course, when a piano is on the stage with Herbert Fritsch, the object is played out: nothing, for example, that cannot be jammed under the heavy lid. It is also played on: Gershwin, for example. Or Richard Clayderman. We just missed the «Elise», but there was also a little «Rosenkavalier», and Hubert Wild (as the notary) took the keys with great courage and played the rather virtuoso piano part in the storm scene in competition with the keyboard player in the orchestra Parquet. With the perfect pianist attitude, of course.

This is Fritsch as you know him: gesticulating, grimacing, charging to the point of excess, and in Basel he also found an ensemble that played with obvious heart's content and with a lot of physical effort in search of the most impossible expression for the behavior of actually normal people. It goes without saying that nobody like you and me moves across the bright green empty stage. We are more likely to be reminded of Monty Python's “silly walks”. An oversized lampshade eyes the strange happening almost like a living being. Otherwise there is no need for any props. Doesn't need someone like Fritsch either: It's much funnier when Christine and her maid are balancing around in the imagined chaotic living room than if there were actually suitcases and piles of clothes lying there.

Still, compared to other works by this cult director, there wasn't much to laugh about. What Fritsch can't do much for. The main problem with this opera is that it isn't really funny. Strauss explicitly did not want to write a comedy. He succeeded. But the scenes that are taken from real life, and thus not exactly pointed towards their comic potential, produce correspondingly little situation comedy.

A real episode in Strauss' married life gave the impetus for "Intermezzo": In 1902 the "Kapellmeister Strauss" received a compromising love letter, which his wife, the singer Pauline de Ahna, opened in disregard of the confidentiality of letters, sensed the affair and the divorce lawyer contacted. However, everything was quickly cleared up: my colleague and namesake Edmund von Strauss was the right addressee for the letter. Strauss embellished and composed this story a little 14 years later, in the middle of his work on "Frau ohne Schatten". In doing so, however, he had nothing less than a new invention of opera in mind: a kind of conversational opera, copied from the cinema: short, realistic dialogues, many cuts, a quick action and all feelings and reflections condensed in symphonic interludes.

The libretto was already the first challenge: Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who had designed “Rosenkavalier” and “Die Frau ohne Schatten” for Strauss at the highest literary level, turned away from such a banal subject with piquancy, Hermann Bahr then turned away from Strauss asked, tried his best, but soon had to throw in the towel, a little unnerved, when he noticed that Strauss had such a firm idea of ​​this text that he advised him to write it himself right away. In contrast to Richard Wagner, Strauss did not consider himself particularly talented in literature, but in the end he did.

But what he really could do was Richard Strauss: he dominated the orchestra like no other. There is probably no measure in this score that is not orchestrated in a convincing and varied way: Wherever you listen: nothing but coherent, coherent, lush music full of esprit and wit, but also full of emotions and deep feelings. This is a two-and-a-half-hour catwalk for all of the orchestra's instruments, which the musicians of the Basel Symphony Orchestra have not yet completed with absolute stylistic confidence, but with a lot of masterful craftsmanship and audible joy of playing.

It's hell for the conductor: Impossible to keep everything under control. Above all, Clemens Heil kept calm and an overview, provided momentum and dynamic discipline, so that the soloists were hardly ever covered up and could also form the predominant parlando tone of this piece linguistically without always fighting against a loud orchestra. Günter Papendell and Flurina Stucki as a quarreling couple stood out in particular. Together with Michael Laurenz as the awkwardly intriguing Baron Lummer led an ensemble well-cast in all positions. Nice to have live theater again. And it's nice to hear how strong and warm applause can be from just 50 people.

Reinmar Wagner

Premiere despite Corona: On April 11, the Zurich Opera House brought Offenbach's great romantic opera "Les Contes d’Hoffmann" to the stage in the empty house and streamed it live on the Internet. Above all, Saimir Pirgu was convincing in his role debut in the figure of the poet torn between love and art.

A barrel. Andreas Homoki doesn't need more to tell the prologue. Wolfgang Gussmann's costumes are based on the time of Offenbach's great romantic opera. Homoki narrates without fuss, he does not need to go in search of any kind of originality, but trusts completely in the situation comedy and the bizarre characters and scenes already given by the play. A smoking alchemist's laboratory is not necessary for the Olympics, a red sofa is enough. And pretty, as simple glasses are enough to conjure up the appearance of real life in the movements of this machine in Hoffmann's eyes.

This has been carefully thought out and meticulously implemented in guiding people. Hoffmann dreams the love stories of his life, but it is the rival Lindorf, the evil character who in this romantic opera is Hoffmann's diabolical adversary in all the scenes, who like a magician brings the scenes to life for us. For the music-loving Antonia, one grand piano is enough - which she also kills, one of the few stage effects that Homoki allows himself. And the atmosphere of the summer night in Venice is limited to a Murano chandelier and a special dress for Giulietta.

But especially musically, this production, which was brought to the video premiere under Corona conditions with great effort, is convincing. Saimir Pirgu's Hoffmann, in particular, is extremely diverse in his singing possibilities, and is confident in the use of vocal means. It's his role debut, but that's not how his appearance looks at all: His lines are supple, develop warmth and melting and a beautiful, still round radiance when this is indicated, which seems to be the case with Pirgu less often than usual, but also at the end of the strenuous part still lies in his vocal possibilities without any problems.

The gloomy characters are in good hands with bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams: the Brit brings enough blackness, but also enough agility. Alexandra Kadurina masters the double role Muse / Niklausse with confidence and acoustically, linguistically and agogically agile, both in the lively, lively passages of this role as well as in the phases of emotional agitation. And a virtuoso coloratura gurgle like Katrina Galka does not give away the possibilities of the Olympia and also gains significantly more variations from the role than is usually heard. Ekaterina Bakanova sang Antonia slightly less intoxicating: A sometimes strong vibrato and cloudiness in the intonation diminished the impression of the most dramatic and musically interesting female role in this piece.

The concept of separating stage and orchestra set up by the Zurich Opera House at the beginning of the pandemic allows the full score to be played again this time. In the rehearsal room, which is about a kilometer from the house, the choir and orchestra sit, and Antonino Fogliani has the difficult task of coordinating the sound transmitted via fiber optic into the opera house with the singers on stage. He succeeded very well, but in this premiere a few inaccuracies and rhythmic wobbles crept into the action, not so much in the coordination between the soloists and the orchestra, but within the musical community of the Philharmonia Zurich. This may also be due to the fact that although you have supposedly ideal playing conditions in this rehearsal room, the musicians sit much further apart than usual due to the corona protection concept and thus hear each other more difficult than in the narrow, but acoustically not so bad conditions an orchestra pit. Otherwise Fogliani stayed on the brisk side in the tempos, which is good for the piece, and showed a lot of sense for the many details of this extremely theatrical composed music.

Reinmar Wagner

The production can be viewed free of charge on the opera house's website until the end of April. From May, if allowed, there will be the possibility of live performances.


 

Playful multimedia spectacle

In front of 15 lucky spectators drawn by lots and a handful of press representatives, Mozart's (slightly abbreviated) “Magic Flute” premiered in Basel. An extremely playful staging and a radiant pair of lovers with Regula Mühlemann's role debut as Pamina would undoubtedly have deserved more audience.

The queen of the night in a wheelchair, the three boys as gnome old men, the three women as elite combat troops with seductive potential. Pamina, on the other hand, traditionally in innocent white. You don't have to ask British director Simon McBurney for reasons for interpreting his characters. It is not about explaining or interpreting Mozart's fairy tale opera. The piece is just one big playground for him. You are not allowed to play, but it is actually a lot of fun to watch him play. A movably suspended platform that can be tilted in all directions is sufficient as a play area. It allows the speaking illustration of various emotional imbalances or makes it clear in a striking way where up and down is in the power relations of this fairy tale world: Above are Sarastro and an elite dressed in business-like clothes, below are the naturally and instinctively drawn women with their worn-out queen Night.

But that's not what McBurney cares about so much. The role and gender image that Schikaneder and Mozart were able to bring to the stage in 1791, unspeakable for today's perception, is practically uncommented by the British director and actor in its clichéd platitude. He prefers to use his ramp as a slide and keep his staff, enriched by eight choir members, ten more stage figures in permanent motion. His ideas, which are as simple as they are original or poetic, continue to surprise. Above all, however, this “Magic Flute” is an ostensibly simple multimedia spectacle. The technology, which holds legions of stumbling blocks ready in such cases, usually seldom dispenses with its pitfalls. Here it is: you have rehearsed with an extremely high level of accuracy, every projection is accurate to the centimeter, the cross-fading of live drawings and video succeed seamlessly, and the noises generated live from Marquis' McGee's alchemical laboratory box succeed in their timing always perfect.

The orchestra was also involved in this gimmick with the production of an opera - Papageno, who struggles with the glockenspiel because the keyboard assistant who is employed for it takes too long a break. Above all, however, the musicians of the Basel Symphony Orchestra put themselves in the limelight. The wind instruments especially in the historical sound, with basset horns, a great trombone trio, impeccable natural horns and two flutists who also lived up to the opera title on modern instruments. With the strings, the reduced line-up led to a sound that took a bit of getting used to, and sometimes a bit chirping in the highest registers. But here, too, historical bowing technique and the dosed use of vibrato proved to be transparent and adequate to a contemporary Mozart sound. Francesc Prat, the Catalan conductor, mainly relied on rounded suppleness and less on contrasts and accents. A lot of things sounded a bit good, if never inanimate or even boring. For my taste, the harmonious sophistication that Mozart proves again and again in this opera, which at first glance seems simple, with fallacies and unexpected progressions, should have been emphasized with a little more emphasis.

Regula Mühlemann, the Swiss picture-book soprano, would actually have chosen the Salzburg Festival for her role debut as Pamina this summer, but the “Magic Flute” had no place in the Corona-shortened program. What a contrast: Instead of being in the spotlight at the most important opera festival in the world, she sang in front of 15 listeners - and it was Salzburg-worthy: perfect intonation, bright colors, intoxicating effortlessness, intelligently designed lines without mannerisms, tasteful Mozart singing, as it is has already shown her two Mozart CDs. Her great aria in G minor left so much dismay that no one dared to applaud. But Kai Kluge, Tamino at her side, didn't have to hide a bit either: A round, warm timbre as the basic color up to the highest heights, but also a nice portion of metal if the situation calls for it.

André Morsch sang an appealingly solid Papageno, the Queen of the Night by Rainelle Krause not only proved to be sure of heights and coloratures, but also put a lot of cutting edge into her revenge aria. Patrick Zielke didn't really get the profound bass depth that a Sarastro should have. On the other hand, the three ladies say very well, the three boys from the Basler Knabenkantorei, on the other hand, can get significantly better in intonation and precision. The choirs remained underexposed - no wonder, since the voices were only occupied by two people, and first they had to sing with a mask.

She has had a brilliant career with this opera production: McBurney worked on it for Amsterdam in 2012, and she was soon to be seen at the English National Opera and at the Festival in Aix-en-Provence. After that, she not only made it onto a DVD (with Marc Albrecht) but was re-recorded at numerous opera houses. Benedikt von Peter has now brought it to the Swiss premiere as the new Basel artistic director.

Reinmar Wagner


Human, not a saint

Benedikt von Peter opened the renovated Basel Theater and its artistic director as head of opera with the Swiss premiere of "Saint François d’Assise". The opera, composed in 1983 by Olivier Messiaen, is not an easy piece, neither for the director, musicians, nor for the audience.

This supermarket has seen much better days: nobody has been shopping here for a long time, the neon signs are in tatters, apart from a few rubber trees, the inventory has been looted. A few homeless people have settled in the parking lot. One of them is called François. And he's sick. A person, nothing more. Everything that is sacred has been lost to him. The director Benedikt von Peter and his set designer Márton Agh design a post-apocalyptic scenario that would suit any film set. Agh's masterpiece are the puddles, which look so lifelike that one immediately fears for the protagonists if they wash themselves with this water. The barriers between audience and stage have been lifted: the ditch is covered, catwalks run through the auditorium, part of the audience, which has been reduced to half, sits on the stage and the orchestra receives the entire left side.

Oh yes, and the birds: they play a central role in both Saint Francis and Messiaen. Not only in the two and a half hour piano cycle «Catalog d’Oiseaux», but in almost every work that Messiaen composed after the Second World War, chirps chirp through the action. It goes without saying that Messiaen adorns the sermon on the bird, the most famous scene from the Saint Vita of Francis of Assisi, in beautiful colors. But they don't exist on stage, the birds: all dead. François keeps one of the last as a fetish in a briefcase, probably his former pet. And he folds origami birds out of black paper. He places them in their hundreds on the low-hanging power lines, where they look like a flock of ominous ravens and frame this dystopia very appropriately.

Everything is very well crafted by the director, carefully decorated down to the finest details. In addition, it is played very impressively by everyone on stage with a lot of physical effort. But it remains a strange story. It has nothing to do with Messiaen's longing for the transfiguration of saints.There are absolutely lovable, human, and also funny moments in this piece, you don't necessarily have to depict the angel as a supernatural being, but at the latest when stigmatizing, finally when dying and in the transfiguration of this death, the deeply devout Catholic Messiaen made such a fervent confession in his music that a staging that negates this strong spiritualization simply has to come to nothing.

Peter, however, defiantly remains on his way to the end, constantly breaking the emphasis that Messiaen builds up increasingly suggestively. In the end, he only has the pauses, in which he tries to hold onto his long-lost position with rattling dishes or stomping steps. There is simply music that on the opera stage with vehemence opposes even the best ideas of even the most accomplished directors.

Messiaen's musical language is always very gestural, very rhetorical, likes to work with recurring patterns that can be easily understood by hearing. Clemens Heil and the musicians of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, especially the virtuoso percussionists, impressively managed to find such patterns in exactly the same character right from the start. Messiaen gives the singers a lot of space by only accompanying them very sparingly and often placing the orchestra between their lines with commentary.

And the chamber version of the gigantic score, hastily commissioned by the composer Oscar Strasnoy this summer - for 40 instead of more than a hundred musicians - also ensures transparent transparency. In terms of singing, no one had to put up with any reproaches, impressive were Rolf Romei as a leper, Alfheiour Erla Guomundsdottir as an angel and above all Nathan Berg in the title role: a great performance by the Canadian bass baritone, who was practically non-stop on the stage, but vocal until the end never had to compromise.

Reinmar Wagner


Noah is lost too

This «Csárdásfürstin» should have had its premiere in April. Now, shortly after the season opened, she performed Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunow" on the stage of the Zurich Opera House. The German theater director Jan Philipp Gloger grabbed it with full hands and let operetta bliss end in the end of the world.

"What kind of shit text is that, dude?" Sylva puts it in a nutshell: These texts are very much stuck in their creation around 1914. Nevertheless, much of it has been left behind in Zurich, giving the superficial trallala and the chauvinism, unspeakable for today's feeling, the chance to denounce themselves. But not only: the virus gets its punch line and the ironic distance is maintained: "Man, what world do you actually live in?" Sylva is allowed to ask. Obviously it is a world of today: We are on a luxury yacht on which a pleasure-seeking clique of the super wealthy has withdrawn and closed their eyes to the problems of the world: the poles are melting, the ocean is littered and the birds are falling dead from the sky. But they also ignore the open questions of their relationships and addictions, celebrate with Japanese hookers, have fun with cheap South Sea folklore, and even the end of the world and the apocalypse do not prevent them from still dancing waltzes in front of astonished aliens.

"What kind of shit text is that, dude?" Sylva puts it in a nutshell: These texts are very much stuck in their creation around 1914. Nevertheless, much of it has been left behind in Zurich, giving the superficial trallala and the chauvinism, unspeakable for today's feeling, the chance to denounce themselves. But not only: the virus gets its punch line and the ironic distance is maintained: «Man, what world do you live in?», Sylva is allowed to ask. Obviously it is a world of today: We are on a luxury yacht on which a pleasure-seeking clique of the super wealthy has withdrawn and closed their eyes to the problems of the world: the poles are melting, the ocean is littered and the birds are falling dead from the sky. But they also ignore the open questions of their relationships and addictions, celebrate with Japanese hookers, have fun with cheap South Sea folklore, and even the end of the world and the apocalypse do not prevent them from still dancing waltzes in front of astonished aliens.

Sounds like denouncing and making ridiculous. But the director Jan Philipp Gloger does not do that with the «Csárdásfürstin». He takes Kálmán's operetta, which was designed and started shortly before the outbreak of World War I, and which was only completed and premiered in 1915 after an interruption, very seriously. But he looked for the premonitions of the catastrophe, found it in abundance and transported these finds into our days. In doing so, he draws from the full, countering the clichéd opulence of the operetta with a maximum of clichés and opulence, exaggerated with a lot of playfulness and irony as much as possible. It's certainly never boring, but it is sometimes very brutal, and Gloger has found the biggest conceivable mallet for the dystopian twist in his staging.

Not even Noah can save the earth this time: The cute little animals die, the earth explodes and somewhere on dusty Mars the two remaining couples, who are actually happily exchanged in the operetta happy ending, are stranded in front of the eyes of unbelieving aliens. Martin Zysset accompanies himself on the portable barrel organ in the inserted couplet “The old Noah” from the almost simultaneously composed operetta “Die Faschingsfee” by Kálmán: a cabaret piece of the finest.

Gloger does not find differentiated tones in this piece, that is reserved for the conductor Lorenzo Viotti, who repeatedly demands not only thoroughbred waltzes but also very quiet and thoughtful melodies. Whereby the sound transmission in this instrumentation, which is not so much characterized by a complex orchestral sound as it is often characterized by solo lines, makes a less compelling impression than in «Boris Godunow». Nevertheless, the singers sometimes get lost, less in the moments of the great vocal gesture than in middle registers and situations - or when speaking, a difficult topic on the operetta stage. Annette Dasch and Pavol Breslik sing the first couple, Rebeca Olvera and Spencer Lang the second. They all don't seem to be really familiar with their roles and this piece yet, but the rehearsal situation of this production, which should have premiered in April, was too unfavorable due to the pandemic and the acoustic system with that of the The orchestra transferred to the external rehearsal room is still too unusual.

Reinmar Wagner


Lustful soap of the gods

Berlin: The house blessing at Wotans hangs crooked - the freshly cheeky “Rheingold” version of the Deutsche Oper was staged as a welcome restart by Graham Vick on the parking deck of the house.

It was really palpable on this mild, early summer evening in Berlin, the joy that the game was being played again. That after many weeks of cultural isolation one could finally be an audience again. Even if under very special circumstances and with the long-known restrictions. The mask put on at the entrance was almost taken up as an everyday Berlin habit. And the packed and carefully tied chairs between the occupied seats almost gave the impression that Christo had returned once more and wanted us to experience his poetry.

But a noticeably large number of visitors celebrated the Berlin opera revival after months of closed theater doors. They met for a beer in the opera's own garden restaurant or got in the mood for this evening at the opera with a glass of white wine. Premiere mood in times of Corona, so to speak.

Actually, Wagner's “Rheingold” should have made the Deutsche Oper opener into a new “Ring” in June. The first since Götz Friedrich's legendary Nibelungen tunnel from 1984, which not only remained playable for a surprisingly long time, but also retained much of its fascination. But the Corona guillotine brought Stefan Herheim and the Deutsche Oper, like so many others, to their knees. After the lethargy of the first few weeks of lockdown, however, a creative pioneering spirit emerged, spurred on by the easing in June. The result is a somewhat shortened version of Wagner's "Ring" pre-evening, played through without a break, with an orchestra limited to 22 musicians and a cast that has been cut by two roles. It was not played on the stage of the big house, but outside, in the backyard, so to speak, on the parking deck behind the opera. This sober urban usable space in particular turned out to be extremely coherent for the undertaking. Even more: With the game, something like its own poetry was breathed into it, for this one, extraordinary time in early summer 2020. When we are invited to Wotan's home in a consistently improvised, but artistically highly motivated spirit.

We experience a really weird soap of gods this evening. It works wonderfully to see the whole saga of the gods told as an all-too-human story about power, lies and deceit, and to be presented with relish. The whole performance has a workshop character: an intrigue of the coarse kind, whereby the house blessing with Wotans is endangered from the very beginning. The two giants act as windy real estate agents with Mafiosotouch.

Of course, a chamber formation with 22 musicians cannot make you forget Wagner’s waves of sound. Nevertheless, one hears with great pleasure from the first bar: how amazingly colorful and blooming the sound unfolds in the chamber music orchestral version by Jonathan Dove. And how GMD Donald Runnicles cheers everyone on and tries to keep the tension high, to make musical passion tangible.

This improvised “Rheingold” sketch is fresh and refreshing. The ensemble of singers of the Deutsche Oper is also there with pleasure and joy and makes us think again and again with joy of how fresh opera can sound. Has the forced abstinence from corona made our ears more sensitive again? At the end there was cheering and applause for everyone involved. Unmistakably the joy of this delicate resurrection of the opera genre. The hope remains that somehow things could go on again in the course of autumn. Possibly actually on stage. After all, the new “Ring” start in the production by Stefan Herheim - now with “Walküre” - is still planned for September.

Andrea Meuli


From the desert to the catwalk

The St. Gallen Theater continues to distinguish itself as a musical stage: "Desert Flower" tells the eventful and moving story of the Somali girl Waris Dirie, who received worldwide attention as a top model and activist against the circumcision of girls. The premiere of the fast-paced musical on Saturday was an acclaimed success.

No musical has ended like this: With the rustling of paper that is crumpled up. It wasn't quite clear what director Gil Mehmert was trying to tell us. That paper is patient? The fact that the power of word and reason with which Waris Dirie fights against the stubbornly practiced circumcision of girls in many countries and societies is limited in the face of obscure tribal traditions and unscrupulous social and religious leaders who are still responsible for suffering and death responsible for thousands of children?

"Desert Flower" is the moving story of one of these victims, the story of the girl from Somalia who fled through the desert on foot before the forced marriage at the age of thirteen, made her way as a maid and cleaning assistant in Mogadishu and London, was discovered by a star photographer and finally a brilliant career as a top model. Waris Dirie is the name of the 55-year-old woman who has been actively campaigning against the circumcision of girls for many years.

She told her story under the title "Desert Flower" in 1998 in a sensational autobiography, which was also made into a film in 2009. And now the St. Gallen Theater has received the honor of producing the material as a musical for the first time. Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, a very successful German songwriter, was won over, for example, who composed Nena's world hit “99 Luftballons” - and also quotes him briefly when Waris and her friend Marilyn are having fun in a London discotheque.

Together with Gil Mehmert, who is responsible for the story and the text, they took on the stages of this eventful life - a little too eventful for a musical, and the two creators didn't have the courage to leave gaps. Especially in the first part, the scenes and stations chase each other in an almost breathlessly close succession. Many song ideas are only touched on briefly - some return afterwards, others remain episodes, which also means that until the title song, which appears shortly before the end of the first part, hardly a musical thought sticks.

In the second part it gets a little better - there is, for example, a pretty tango for the agency boss Veronica or a ballad for the bogus husband O’Sullivan, which comes into play because a traveling top model naturally needs a usable passport. Two numbers too, which are convincing because both actors - Susanna Panzner and Jogi Kaiser - vocal and singing revealed the most versatile facets in the ensemble and longest resisted the bad habit that is apparently omnipresent in musicals today, all loud passages with enormous pressure on the voice singing, which almost always affects the intonation, especially with Kerry Jean, who sings the almost omnipresent adult Waris.

Nevertheless, she hardly gets the opportunity for big song moments, the schedule of the scenes is too tight. Fahrenkrog-Petersen writes mostly rock, likes ballads, repeatedly uses African drums and other rhythm instruments, but occasionally also puts the extensive text in an operatic parlando. The world of the catwalk and fashion - the glitz and glamor of which would actually be a hit for a musical and would also produce a lot in terms of choreography - remains rather an episode. Much more space is taken up by the needs of the culturally uprooted young woman and, above all, the trauma of circumcision.

This template is no small challenge for a director, but Gil Mehmert has masterfully managed to arrange this lively series of scenes in quick succession and to bring them coherently past each other. The very flexible stage design by Christopher Barreca is a great help, as he can also bring in playful and funny ideas in times of need. - Standing ovation from an enthusiastic premiere audience, and particularly warm applause for the guest of honor Waris Dirie.

Reinmar Wagner


Shadow play for a figure of light

She's back again, Cecilia Bartoli, as brilliant and expressive as ever: at the Zurich Opera House, she shaped the premiere of Gluck's opera “Iphigénie en Tauride” on Sunday with her inimitable presence. And it didn't detract in the slightest from their charisma that Andreas Homoki's staging mostly left them in the dark.

If the stage in Zurich's opera house has stayed dark in recent years, that was a good sign, think of the grandiose “Macbeth” by Barrie Kosky or Christian Spuck's Verdi Requiem. It is not that clear this time when the landlord, Andreas Homoki, immerses himself in Gluck's version of the Atrid saga “Iphigénie en Tauride”. Indeed, when you look at this family in which sons are slaughtered at the feast, warriors returning home are assassinated in the bathroom or your own mother is slain by the children with a double ax, you can actually go black.

The space, which is lengthened to infinity towards the back, is raven-black, only occasionally showing sharp jagged cracks, through which, however, no ideal outside world attracts, but rather incredibly poisonous light pushes into the black tunnel and picturesque shadow plays with the people who are trapped here. They are symbolic images that, together with the few but deliberately symbolic gestures of the people, who are almost always depressed on the floor, bear witness to the dire needs of this broken family.

For the overture - a seldom beautiful musical storm that corresponds to the inner storm in Iphigenia's soul - Homoki mimes the disastrous family history of the Atrids, a trick that works perfectly. The fact that Klytämnestra comes out as Diana in the end doesn't make much dramaturgical sense, but it doesn't really matter either. It is more likely that Homoki obviously deeply distrusts the happy ending. Because actually this Iphigenia would be a paradigmatic figure of light: it is she who breaks the evil curse on her family on her own, even before she knows that her brother, Orestes, is one of the victims. The fact that Diana and the world of gods approve of their decision in the end doesn't make them smaller - but nicer, at least if Gluck offers everything that the orchestra of its time has to offer in terms of cheering colors. But just: the director didn't trust them.

> And Homoki gave away something else with his orgy in black: the almost proverbial expressive facial expressions of Bartoli. In the twilight, you can hardly make out anything from the expressive play of her eyes.All the more she concentrates on the possibilities of her singing, playing with musical accents and vocal shades, with the timbres of her not large but expressive voice, and virtuoso with the possibilities of language: no tone that is not somehow charged with a nuance of color or a vibrato variant. One could imagine an Iphigénie with a lot more melos and lines, precisely because Gluck very consciously turned away from the vocal arts of the baroque era, but La Bartoli has never ticked it like this: everything about her is exuberant expressivity, and that's what she finally opens up loved all over the world.

Orestes at her side, Stéphane Degout, was infected by her dramatic attitude. He didn't have to bend overboard for this, the versatile French baritone is a singer who likes to look for regions away from pure beautiful sound and goes to extremes when singing. It was left to Frédéric Antoun's pylade to create smooth melodies, for which his engagingly warm and softly flowing tenor is ideally suited.

The Italian Gianluca Capuano led the audience through the score of Gluck's penultimate - and perhaps best - opera, which was as suggestive as it was in a poised manner. It has elegance and suppleness, everything scratchy and rough that was associated with historical instruments just a few years ago is blown away without the musical drama ever being smoothed out. The original sound faction “La Scintilla” of the Zurich Opera Orchestra could still add a bit of precision, there is still a small gap to the best of the guild. Capuano, however, also spurred the musicians on again and again, often chose extremely fast tempos and ironically did not allow the slightest slack even in indulgent moments of well-being, which was particularly positive in the many charming choirs of the priestesses: beautifully composed by Gluck, but also really beautiful sung by the Zurich choir women.

Reimar Wagner


Standing around in the horror maze

Barbara Frey put Mozart's opera “Le Nozze di Figaro” in a fascinating maze, but it remained rather sedate. The singers and the orchestra under the direction of Christian Curnyn are completely different: lively, lively musical theater in the Basel Theater.

We know horror wallpapers from many theater productions, but this one by Bettina Meyer can easily join the top ten: oversized floral patterns stretch into infinite distance like in a mirror labyrinth. Funny when the figures in the back of the stage suddenly seem too big, funny too, how they sneak through the various trenches that run through this labyrinth. It soon becomes clear that this unified space is a large green maze in which the couples find each other again at the final climax of this mistaken comedy. And then, after the happy dissolution of the reversed roles and the forgiveness, which Mozart has so touchingly musically drawn, this curtain rises and reveals a gigantic steel wall. They may have escaped the intrigue maze, but Sunshine does not smile about the future relationships of these diverse couples. That much is clear.

Otherwise, Barbara Frey doesn't clarify much. She evidently distrusts the ingenious musical comedy that Lorenzo da Ponte and Mozart created based on Beaumarchais's “La folle journée”. Mozart's music, however, is so theatrical, so close to the turbulent events and the emotional confusion of the characters, that a strong counterbalance is needed if you want to tell the story differently. It's not that deeper emotions are missing, but they are rather the masterfully arranged spices in the emotional lives of the protagonists, with which Mozart sets them apart from the comedy templates.

The melancholy that Barbara Frei finds in them above all is there, of course, but it is not sustainable enough to save this production over time on its own. So the evening remains scenic and becomes boring again and again, also because Frey constantly loses sight of the pleasure of acting. Too much just remains static: Even Figaro and Susanna in the first scene hardly dare to touch each other. Is that supposed to be a pair of lovers? The lively Cherubino is allowed to lay his head on a woman's shoulder, a quick kiss, otherwise there is no indication with its erotic attraction, which every woman succumbs to in this piece.

Frey also refuses to play with the interchanged gender roles, and she would even have received a double template: Barbarina sings a male soprano with Bruno de Sá - yes, that is possible, with the appropriate talent and a lot of training, some men also get significantly higher than the countertenor pitch. But scenically it is given away: While Cherubino hardly conceals her female figure in the costumes of Bettina Walter, the soprano has been hung with an XL bra and - like everyone else - he is mainly left standing around. The melancholy goes best with the couple of counts, of course, and the staging succeeds in creating a few haunting images and touching scenes. Overall, that is not enough for a three-hour “Figaro” evening.

It was all the more worthwhile to listen, especially to the Basel Symphony Orchestra. These musicians have already proven several times that they can master the timbres of classic original sound aesthetics. But the stylistic familiarity has grown, and classical bows on the strings, natural horns and trumpets underline the musical competence. You play practically at eye level with the specialist ensembles, if there is a conductor at the front who also knows how to produce these sounds. This is undoubtedly true of the British baroque specialist Christian Curnyn. Still, it is astonishing how incredibly calm his gestures are, and how extremely theatrical and lively the Basel musicians still play.

This also applies to the ensemble of singers: only Figaro by Antoin Herrera-Lopez Kessel remained a bit underexposed, and one has to blame it for a lack of vocal suppleness. Quite different from Thomas Lehmann, who sang the Conte with great agility and with virile strength, which he used cleverly and carefully. In the case of the Countess von Oksana Sekerina, the initially irritating metallic hardness and the uncontrolled vibrato were lost in the course of the premiere, and she created captivatingly beautiful lines in her second great aria or in a duet with Susanna by Sarah Brady, who is enchanting in every moment and every position .

Reinmar Wagner


Joyful Helena

Well-targeted punchlines: At the St. Gallen Theater, the director Ansgar Weigner taps Offenbach's antiquities parody for her cabaret potential: The result is a very enjoyable Helena.

The easy is often the most difficult. This also applies to Jacques Offenbach's operettas. Esprit is in demand, and non-stop, both musically and scenically. The new production in St. Gallen usually manages to keep the density of events high, hardly interrupting the cascade of funny scenic ideas and also making use of the possibilities for cabaret texts and interludes. There were a few lengths, but above all the delightfully updated interim texts, which have been reminiscent of today's (politician) figures, which the director Ansgar Weigner and his dramaturge Marius Bolten invented, always ensure well-targeted punchlines: «Make Sparta great again! » And the actress Pascale Pfeuti, who is introduced here as “Bacchis” at the court of Menelaus, even received her own cabaret excursion on the subject of gender roles, which she mastered with virtuosity.

The pastiche of ancient heroes or gods had become Offenbach's recipe for success since the huge success of "Orpheus in the Underworld". The «Belle Hélène», which premiered in 1864, was able to build on this, especially since everyone in the Paris of the Second Empire Offenbach naturally understood and enjoyed satirical tips against the current political and social situation. Interestingly, it was precisely the (often aristocratic) heads of society who let Offenbach entertain themselves and thus laughed at themselves, while the bourgeoisie complained about the collapse of all morality, especially since the diva Hortense Schneider, for whom Offenbach tailored his Helene must have been a rather seedy actress, whose vocalist was apparently more at the back of her charms. So it is of course the best tradition to adapt these punchlines, which were pointed to the circumstances at that time, to today's conditions in today's performances. Too much should not be revealed from the repertoire of gag and punch lines that burned down the direction and dramaturgy, but there is a lot to laugh about at the potentates of the current world order.

The French conductor Nicolas André provided the appropriate musical esprit. He animated the orchestra to lively play almost everywhere, kept the tempos high and the dynamic levels in proportions suitable for the singer. They knew how to thank him, especially Marie-Claude Chappuis in the title role. Her agile voice, expressive in all positions, combined excellently with the lustful and thoroughly hand-held role, which offers many grateful acting moments from tender and flirtatious to refined or intriguing to lame drunkenness. Gustavo Quaresma gave the Paris a very agile acting, also sang with a beautiful timbre and a voice that was always sure of heights. However, almost everything always sounds exactly the same with him, even when he appears as a disguised ambassador of Venus as an Angela Merkel parody (“We can do it!”).

Reinmar Wagner


Flirt with the audience

In Bern, Luger Engels tries to carry the ecstasy of Szymanowski's “King Roger” to the audience

Women's strike, climate demonstration, “Fridays for Future” - seldom has so much been demonstrated on Swiss streets and squares. The director Ludger Engels tried to convey to the audience the sense of community that such crowds create among the participants in the Bern theater. And in the opera “King Roger”, which is set in Sicily in the 12th century, there is actually a scene that is very well suited to it: The young shepherd, a Dionysian seducer - perhaps even the god of wine, of joy and the exuberance itself - animates the masses to an ecstatic dance, which hardly anyone can escape despite initially strong resistance from church dignitaries.

Not even the Bernese audience: extras get up from the floor and hold up posters, banners suddenly hang from the boxes, the audience in the first row is invited to go on stage, which is easy because it extends all the way to the floor , the orchestra plays behind the scene. We are already in the middle of a love parade, and Szymanowski's glowing intense music does its part to sweep everyone away. King Roger himself follows the festival disguised as a pilgrim and is the only one who can escape the pull of the Dionysian orgy. He sings an ecstatic greeting to the rising sun, a hymn to Apollo, the god of light, reason - and music. The winner in this competition, however, is clearly Dionysus, who as a chain-breaking seducer brings the masses behind him.

The grandiose main work by Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is an oeuvre that one can hardly call opera, so ritual and oratorio-like is his absorbing music based on gigantic soundscapes and ecstatic choral tableaus. And its melodies, blessed with chromatism, seem like an intensification of Wagner's "Tristan". This music is highly dramatic, but not in the sense of supporting an operatic plot, but glowing, colorful, ecstatic in itself. For the conductor Matthew Toogood, who has been the interim musical director at the Bern Theater since this season, the task was not exactly easy. It is true that he led the orchestra confidently and sonically captivating in the large, intense palette of timbres that Szymanowski created in 1926 between the models of Wagner, Richard Strauss, Debussy and Janácek. But he had no contact with his soloists, who could only react to the monitors behind him. So they had to trust each other almost blindly, which worked surprisingly well at the premiere.

The personified seduction was entrusted in Bern to the tenor Andries Cloete. The South African has been in the ensemble for many years and has sung a wide variety of roles. The charismatic warmth of his voice fits in wonderfully with this Dionysian seducer, which Szymanowski occasionally opposes with the full force of the large orchestra. But the dramatic ounce of metal in Cloete's tenor was missing. The Polish baritone Mariusz Godlewski has more vocal reserves, who in the title role showed the ambivalence of the emotionally torn king with a variety of vocal means.

Evgenia Grekova sang Queen Roksana with neatly fitting top notes, with enchantingly delicate piano lines, but if necessary also with powerful radiance. And Nazariy Sadivskyy as Endrisi didn’t owe anything to his part, just like the Bernese theater choir, rehearsed by Zsolt Czetner, which did not always master its very grateful tasks in this oratorio-like piece with flawless precision and homogeneity, but overall very solid and rhythmically stable.

Reinmar Wagner


But with cream, please!

A musical with songs by Udo Jürgens comes on stage at the Thunerseespiele.

It worked so well with ABBA, why shouldn't it also work with Udo Jürgens? “Mamma mia” was not only a hit as a film, the musical version traveled around the world and last summer also made a stop at the Thunerseespiele - in a production specially adapted for the lake stage. Repeating the recipe for success has now been just as brilliantly successful this summer. In 2007, Gabriel Barylli arranged a musical version for Hamburg based on the same knitting pattern from the most famous songs by Udo Jürgens with a completely newly invented story: Lisa, successful TV show star with ambition and highest ambitions ("Thank you for the flowers") , missed her mother's birthday, who sent her to a retirement home.

He is congratulated all the more attentively by fellow inmate Otto - we already have the first romance. The old but pretty vife woman ("At 66, that's where life begins") likes fantasy comics and dreams her way into these worlds, which gives us an excuse to bring Spiderman & Co on stage. And for her birthday she would like to take a boat trip to the USA, because "I've never been to New York". The two old men run away together, Lisa and the son of the sprightly pensioner, Axel, pursue them on the ship: Romance number two - albeit with some initial difficulties.

A boat trip like this with all the different passengers and crew members naturally offers colorful opportunities at every nook and cranny to put on the Jürgens hits, and in the fast-cut, colorfully orchestrated musical arrangements by Roy Moore and Michael Reed, what is purring off Austrian singer has produced hits in his long artistic life: “Everything under control on the sinking ship”, the buffet “but please with cream”, the blonde ballet (“17 years, blond hair”) or “Greek wine” - well yes, one of the gay buddies is homesick for his Greek island - «you have to forgive!».

The director Werner Bauer brought the play to the Thuner Seebühne and convinces with a lot of speed, athletic action and neatly developed choreographies. The Statue of Liberty takes on an imaginary shape as a central stage element, but it is more than mere decoration: in comic style, speech bubbles show the statue's comments on the turbulent hunt for the pensioners (“Kiss him at last!”).

The music is made clean and solid under the direction of Iwan Wassilevski, who has been holding the musical strings in Thun for 16 years and leading the score confidently and carefully. And the cast of singers can also be heard absolutely. Patrick Imhof manages the Udo Jürgens timbre most beautifully, Kerstin Ibald shines as Lisa, but also many secondary characters and the whole ensemble are at the height of their tasks.

Reinmar Wagner


Send in the clowns

In Verdi's “Rigoletto” on Lake Constance, the Bregenz Festival presents a spectacular stage show with lots of circus and stage technology.