Summer 2013: Wagner’s International 200th Birthday Bash!

This year the classical and operatic music world are celebrating the 200th birthday of composer Richard Wagner. Many opera houses and festivals around the world have been pushing to perform more Wagner this year than ever before. That effort is showing particularly well at this point in the year. So many opera houses, radio stations, and festivals are putting on Wagner all at the same time, even while the Metropolitan Opera is closed for the summer (The Met did throw their Wagner Birthday Party by doing the Ring and Parsifal in the Winter and Spring)! Here are the numerous venues where Wagner is being performed this summer:

Royal Albert Hall: The BBC Proms

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For the first time ever the BBC Proms is presenting an entire, complete Ring Cycle. This is also the first time that Maestro Daniel Barenboim will conduct a Wagner opera in Britain. Das Rheingold was performed on Monday night, starring Iain Paterson as Wotan, Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka, and Stephan Rügamer as Loge. Die Walküre was performed on Tuesday night starring Bryn Terfel as Wotan, Simon O’Neill as Siegmund, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. These were Proms numbers 14 and 15. Proms 18 and 20 will be Siegfried on Friday night, starring Lance Ryan in the title role, and Götterdämmerung on Sunday afternoon, starring Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, Andreas Schager as Siegfried, and Mikhail Petrenko as Hagen. The whole Ring includes the wonderful orchestra of Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim.

IN BETWEEN the long Wagner operas of Proms 18 and 19, Tristan und Isolde will be performed as Prom 19. No, thank goodness, they are not working the same orchestra to death. The BBC Symphony Chorus will play under Maestro Semyon Bychkov, along with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Singers. It will star Violetta Urmana as Isolde and Peter Seiffert as Tristan.

In August, Tannhäuser will be performed on the 4th with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Donald Runnicles. Robert Dean Smith will sing the title role of Tannhäuser and Heidi Melton will sing Elisabeth. On the 25th of August, the Wagner fest will continue with Parsifal starring Lars Cleveman as Parsifal, Katarina Dalayman (who just outdid herself in the part at the Met) as Kundry, Sir John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz, and Iain Paterson as Amfortas. It will be conducted by Sir Mark Elder with Hallé, the Royal Opera House Chorus, the Hallé Youth Choir, and Trinity Boys Choir

Other excerpts of Wagner such as the Wesendonck Lieder and the overtures to Rienzi and Die Meistersinger will be performed. You can listen live to these Proms through their website (Click the link at the top and you can go to their site).

Bayreuther Festspiele (Bayreuth Festival):

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The Bayreuth Festival has been around since 1876. Wagner built it specifically to perform the Ring and Parsifal with the financial support of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. After Wagner’s son Siegfried, and after his grandson Wieland, and after his other grandson Wolfgang, the festival is now run by Richard’s two great granddaughters: Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, who are the daughters of Wolfgang Wagner.

Photo: Castorf’s set for Das Rheingold

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This season Bayreuth is performing an entire new production of the Ring, and revivals of Der Fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin. The new production of the Ring will be directed by Frank Castorf. The whole Ring will take place on Route 66 in the United States, making many people think it is going to be “regie”. Kirill Petrenko will conduct the Ring Cycle. Singers in the Ring include Johan Botha as Siegmund, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, who is also singing it at the Proms, Lance Ryan as Siegfried, who is also singing it at the Proms, Wolfgang Koch as Wotan and the Wanderer, and Bayreuth’s new British Brünnhilde: Catherine Foster. Conductors include Kirill Petrenko for the Ring, Christian Thielemann for Der Fliegende Holländer, Andris Nelsons for Lohengrin, and Alex Kober for Tannhäuser. You can listen to broadcasts live from Bayreuth during their season through various internet streams, look on the internet!

WQXR’s Wagner Week

(One of many hilarious Ring cartoons WQXR has put out on its Facebook Page)

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This week WQXR’s station is holding its Wagner Week, celebrating his 200th birthday. They started out on Monday by playing broadcasts of the Ring from the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine. On Tuesday they played Wagner excerpts such as Wotan’s Farewell, the Magic Fire Music, and the overture to Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).They also played Tannhäuser conducted by Daniel Barenboim with Staatskapelle Berlin (The same duo that is performing the Ring at the Proms). All of the Operavore shows on WQXR this week are Wagner themed as well. All day today, July 24, you can hear all four operas of the Ring conducted by Clemens Krauss with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Wagner Week will continue all of this week on WQXR and Operavore.

Seattle Opera: The Ring

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The Seattle Opera gets to join the 200th birthday party with its Ring Cycle. It will be performed in three cycles, running from August 4 to 25. Das Rheingold will star Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, Richard Paul Fink as Alberich, Wendy Bryn Harmer as Freia, and Mark Schowalter as Loge. Die Walküre will star Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde and Greer Grimsley as Wotan. Siegfried will star Stefan Vinke in the title role, Dennis Petersen as Mime, Greer Grimsley as the Wanderer, and Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde. Götterdämmerung will star Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde, Stefan Vinke as Siegfried, and Daniel Sumegi as Hagen. Single tickets and Cycles are on sale now!

Tanglewood:

Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra have given several Wagnerian programs in the shed this summer. They have an All-Wagner program on July 21 with overtures from Rienzi, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, and Tannhäuser, and also the Siegfried Idyll, the “Liebestod”, Forest Murmurs from Siegfried, and the iconic Ride of the Valkyries. They also performed Act III of Die Walküre with Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde and Bryn Terfel as Wotan on July 20.

Glimmerglass Festival:

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The Glimmerglass Festival is performing Der Fliegende Holländer until August 24. It stars Ryan McKinny as the Dutchman, Melody Moore as Senta, Peter Volpe as Dalland, and Jay Hunter Morris as Erik. It is being conducted by Maestro John Keenan and the production is by Francesca Zambello.

The Sydney Opera House:

The famous and brilliant looking Sydney Opera House performed Der Fliegende Holländer in the land from down under on July 20 and July 22. David Robertson conducted Eric Owens in the title role, who was making his Australian debut, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The bicentennial of Wagner’s birth is a huge reason to celebrate, and opera companies, radio stations, and festivals all over the world are making it huge. It is incredible that all over the world, Wagner fans are invited and are attending one big birthday party for one composer. Happy 200th, Richard!

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Viva! Viva! Viva Simon Boccanegra from the Royal Opera House!

I recently returned from a vacation to London where I saw two performances at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden: Britten’s Gloriana and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. The experience of being at that opera house once was so amazing, that my family and I had to go back! I am so glad that we returned, because seeing great Verdi with a great cast was an excellent finish to our vacation.

Photo: Council Chamber Scene (Act I Scene 2) of Simon Boccanegra at ROH

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The singing was marvelous all around. Thomas Hampson was a powerful Doge, sounding much more full and less forced than he can sound at the Metropolitan Opera. Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava as Amelia was my favorite. Her voice has this bloom in it that I cannot get over, just as I could not get over it in her first aria Come in quest’ora bruna. She also sang beautifully as Stella and Antonia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann and as Liù in Turandot at the Met in past seasons. Ferruccio Furlanetto played an excellent Fiesco, and his voice rang more complimentary in the Royal Opera House than the Met. It was lovely hearing Russell Thomas in a bigger role as Gabriele Adorno. He has a very focused and beautiful sound that worked with the acoustics of the theater. I would love to hear him in bigger roles, like Adorno, back in New York. Dmitri Platanias was a marvelous Paolo, a role that is often undercast at the Met even with its importance in the plot. I particularly enjoyed his scene where he debates over how to kill Boccanegra, with poison or with a knife. He was dramatic, and he was far from undercast in his role as Paolo. Finally, I heard a tremendous amount of potential in Jihoon Kim singing Pietro. Even for his small role, the bass had a strong and memorable voice. He has sung many small roles at the Royal Opera and participated in several young artist programs there, giving him potential to fly over here and sing at the Met some day!

Photo: Thomas Hampson as Simon and Hibla Gerzmava as Amelia

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The Royal Opera House Chorus did a fabulous job. Simon Boccanegra is one of the many operas that Verdi composed that includes the chorus almost as another character. The orchestra under Sir Antonio Pappano played brilliantly. In some spots, especially the Council Chamber scene, the tempi was taken a bit more leisurely than in other performances I’ve seen. However, it still had adrenaline and I left Act I feeling invigorated.

It was lovely and relieving to see a traditional production after watching regie productions of Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne and Gloriana. The production took place where it was supposed to be in 14th century Genoa. Most of the sets were made up of simple columns with the sky as a background, or golden writing in Latin discussing Simon Boccanegra. I enjoyed seeing the rich materials, colors, and details of the costumes for the Doge and his congress, and all in all seeing a traditional production where I did not have to think about representation or ask myself “What does that supposed to mean?”. I knew what everything meant in Moshinsky’s production, and I was able to focus on Verdi’s great music.

Attending not one, but two performances at the Royal Opera House was a major treat. Hearing opera in a smaller, more traditional sized opera house than that of New York was a very interesting and special experience. From seeing two performances there, I have found that singers do not have to force their voices to reach the 4,000th seat in the Family Circle as much as they do at the Met. In this theater, singers sound much more comfortable because there are far fewer seats and there is less distance that they have to make their voices travel. It was even more comfortable to listen to! I cannot wait to one day go back to London and see another performance at this special opera house.

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A Review of Gloriana from the Royal Opera House

Only a few days ago I returned from a vacation to London where I saw several performances at different venues, including two performances at the Royal Opera House. Located in Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House was such an amazing musical theater and place to be, that my family and I had to go back a second time! We saw Britten’s Gloriana and decided to return on our last night of the trip to see Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. It was a fantastic experience to be seated in and attend performances at the Royal Opera House, a place where I had always wanted to go.

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The first performance that my family attended at the Royal Opera House was Gloriana on July 6th. The production was by Richard Jones, and it starred soprano Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth and tenor Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex. The opera was written by Benjamin Britten and premiered at the Royal Opera House in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Opera House brought it back this year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the coronation!

The singing was phenomenal. Susan Bullock played a serious and focused Queen Elizabeth, giving a masterclass in acting. Toby Spence’s light tenor voice was refreshing to hear as the Earl of Essex. Patricia Bardon as the Countess of Essex gave an amazing performance, simply extending her talent across the pond after stunning everyone performing the role of Cornelia in Giulio Cesare. Out of all the great singing that I heard that night, Kate Royal as Lady Rich was my favorite. Her voice had a particular blossom at the top that was positively gorgeous to listen to. I particularly liked her high C that she held when she was told that Essex was sentenced to death. It rang brightly through the hall even with the dark situation.

The production was without a doubt entertaining, colorful, and attractive to the human eye. It was a little too busy, however, I preferred it to the drab and plainly colored production on the DVD from the English National Opera in 1984. Richard Jones’ production took place in a school house, as if it were a play within a play, like Ariadne. Before every scene a whole line of school boys dressed in uniforms would come out and hold letters, spelling the name of the place where the following scene would occur. The production also produced drastic lighting changes and very bright colors which were appealing to the human eye. There should have been a warning label pasted on the production for seizures, like they do for video games. For an opera that is not terribly exciting, Richard Jones’ production made up for it through bright lighting, coloring, and costumes.

Photo: Scene from Richard Jones’ Gloriana. Queen Elizabeth (Susan Bullock) in center, Earl of Essex (Toby Spence) lower left, Royal Opera House chorus

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The opera itself left a lot to be desired. There were no big arias for any of the singers, and the choral parts were not terribly strong. The iconic musical aspect of the opera was the neo-Renaissance music that Britten incorporated into his normal style. Medieval and Renaissance fanfares were used in the Queen’s presence, in the dance of Time and Concord presented before the Queen, and on lute in the town scene in Act III. This neo-Renaissance music cannot be found in Peter Grimes or Billy Budd. Overall, I would rather pay a ticket to hear the powerful, stronger, and deeper music and story of Peter Grimes or Billy Budd, rather than Gloriana. However, it was special to hear the neo-Renaissance music incorporated into the opera, and it was a special to hear a Britten opera that is rarely performed.

It was an amazing experience attending a performance at the Royal Opera House. It was also special seeing this opera, in London, celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen may not have liked the opera, but it was written for her, and she is still alive today! It was a cultural experience, and one I will never forget.

Photo: The Dance of Time and Concord with Queen Elizabeth in the back

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My Glyndebourne Experience: Sheep, Tea, and Ariadne auf Naxos

Yesterday afternoon I returned from a week long “holiday” to the incredibly music-filled city of London. My family and I toured several venues such as Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, and the British Museum, but we also attended performances at Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The first performance that we attended, which was a week ago tonight, was Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne.

Photo: Glyndebourne in bright sunshine when we arrived

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Glyndebourne was the part of the vacation that I was most looking forward to, and boy did it meet my expectations. It was a very special operatic experience, and one that I will never forget.

My parents and I took the train from London to Lewes, England, where the buses are located to transport opera patrons to Glyndebourne. We arrived in Lewes and looked for the Glyndebourne bus. There was a bus marked “Glyndebourne” across the street, but we found out it was for cast members only! Luckily we made the mistake of finding the wrong bus, because we got to meet and shake hands with Sir Thomas Allen, the Music Master in Ariadne. He was so incredibly nice and he told us that he would look for us in the audience. From then on, I knew that Glyndebourne would be the amazing experience that I heard about.

We arrived and I saw the opera house with the big green lawn for picnicking. We also saw the rolling green hills where you could see at least a hundred sheep munching on grass and making noise! Once we finished taking in the breathtaking view, my parents and I went for afternoon tea (yes, we became cultural very quickly) at the Middle and Over Wallop. We enjoyed the tea, tarts, and scones with jam and clotted cream that were part of the whole British cultural experience. Between the opera, at the interval, we would have dinner at the Nether Wallop (I know, what’s up with all of these ‘wallops’?!). After tea I met up and spoke with the renowned dramaturg of Glyndebourne, Cori Ellison. She worked part-time at the Met, where she was my stage mother in Die Meistersinger in 2007. It was lovely speaking with her again, and an honor to talk with someone of such a high position at one of the world’s leading opera festivals.

Photo: Tea at Glyndebourne (with Dad in the background)

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Overall, I enjoyed the performance of Ariadne. Seeing Ariadne in an opera house for 1,200 people made a huge impression on the girl who regularly attends performances at the 4,000-seat Metropolitan Opera House. The orchestra for Ariadne has only 38 players: At the Met, the sound can be small and sometimes muffled, while at Glyndebourne, the sound filled the house and rang through the horseshoe-shaped theater.

The singing was wonderful. Kate Lindsey was my particular favorite. Her interpretation of the Composer was so intense and deep, and she showed an obvious understanding of the role. Her facial expressions and her way of showing the conflicting emotions the Composer experiences lured the audience in, including me. The Zerbinetta in the July 5th performance that I attended was sung by Russian soprano Ulyana Aleksyuk, replacing Laura Claycomb who was ill. What an incredible voice! Her “Großmächtige Prinzessin” knocked me off my feet, even though I was sitting down. Soile Isokoski played a hilariously diva-like Ariadne, and Sir Thomas Allen was a wonderful Music Master.

Photo: Kate Lindsey as the Composer in Ariadne

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The London Philharmonic under Maestro Vladimir Jurowski gave a great performance as well. There were a few balance problems  in the second act, but that may have been due to the smaller house and things being louder than usual. This performance of Ariadne was also the fastest performance of the work I have seen (tempi wise), in some spots good while in others bad. Overall, it was a special opportunity to hear one of London’s five great orchestras.

The production of Ariadne was the one weak spot in my Glyndebourne experience. It took place in Britain in World War II: The prologue took place in Britain right before an air raid, and the opera took place in the hospital afterwards. Why? The entire opera is supposed to take place in the house of the richest man in Vienna. It doesn’t say Britain or hospital anywhere in Strauss’ notes. The end of the prologue with the swelling music of the Composer and its inspiring build-up, was ruined by fire and smoke filling the stage from the air raid. It broke my heart. The second act’s setting at the hospital left me depressed, and begging for charm and color. The only happiness in the act was Zerbinetta’s team of entertainers and their dance routine. The production so obviously and desperately wanted to work, that mistakes were made in delivery of the lines. For example: When Bacchus arrives at the end of the opera to rescue Ariadne, Ariadne sings “Theseus!”, crying out for him to come back to the island. In this production, when Ariadne sang “Theseus!”, she sang it at Bacchus, making it seem as if she were suffering from dementia in the hospital and she did not recognize that Bacchus was not Theseus. The production tried so hard to fit into Strauss’ measures, that it confusingly and offensively disturbed Hofmannsthal’s libretto. The only parts of the production that I really enjoyed were the majority of the prologue, and the hilarious entertainers with Zerbinetta and their dance routine.

No matter my dislike of the production, Glyndebourne was one of my favorite parts of my trip to London. I had been listening to broadcasts from that opera house for such a long time, and it was incredible to finally go and see a performance at the actual house. For a girl in New York that goes regularly to the largest opera house in the world, Glyndebourne made a real impression on me. I look forward to going back one day!

PS: Here is a photo (not taken by me) of the sheep at Glyndebourne

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Happy Birthday, Jonas Kaufmann!

Today is a very special day. It is the birthday of Bavarian tenor Jonas Kaufmann! He turns 44 today. He is currently singing the role of Manrico in Il Trovatore at the Bayerische Staatsoper’s Opernfestspiele, or the Bavarian State Opera’s summer opera festival. Not only will he be able to celebrate his birthday in his hometown of Munich, he will get to have his head cut off at the end of the opera! Last night on his birthday eve, he received a Bayerischen Kammersänger award at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Congratulations and Happy Birthday, Mr. Kaufmann!

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Happy Fourth of July!

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Happy Fourth of July to opera lovers and everyone else! As we, the American people, will be firing up our grills and watching fireworks, what music will you be listening to? Take this opportunity to remember all of the great American composers, operatic or not! Here are a few:

American Opera composers:

  • George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
  • Carlisle Ford: Susannah, Of Mice and Men
  • John Adams: Doctor Atomic, Nixon in China
  • Philip Glass: Satyagraha, Appomattox, Einstein on the Beach
  • Mark Adamo: Little Women
  • Gian Carlo Menotti: The Telephone
  • Jack Beeson: Lizzie Borden (My dad had him as a teacher at Columbia University!)
  • Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story, Trouble in Tahiti
  • Samuel Barber: Vanessa
  • Jake Heggie: Moby-Dick
  • Nico Muhly: Two Boys

America Non-Opera composers:

  • Aaron Copland
  • Charles Ives
  • Stephen Foster
  • John Philip Sousa
  • Milton Babbitt
  • Elliott Carter
  • Amy Beach
  • John Cage
  • Woody Guthrie

So happy Fourth of July to all, and Happy Birthday to the United States!

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