07/23/1998 - -8/30/1998
Katya in the courtyard
For its premiere in Salzburg, Janacek's masterpiece makes a strong impression, but looses one of its dimensions on the stage. Fortunately, the singers and the orchestra give it back to us as a whole.
July 26, 28, August 1, 4, 6 1998
Leos Janacek : Katya Kabanowa
Angela Denocke (Katya), Jane Henschel (Kabanicha), Dagmar Peckova (Varvara), David Kuebler (Boris), Hubert Delamboye ( Tichon), Rainer Trost (Kudrjos)
Christoph Marthaler (directing), Anna Viebrock (sets and costumes).
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Sylvain Cambrelaing (conductor)
Updating strikes again. From the nineteenth century russian countryside and the river Volga, you cross the doors of a bleak, desolate senventies block reminding the czeck town of Brno. Why not ? The production by Christoph Marthaler and Anna Viebrock, very strong, unconventional, is quite a success if you see Katia Kabanowa as a realisitic drama. But it lacks the poetry expressed by the music -poetry of the nature, maybe, but moreover poetry of the mind, this passion, romanticism, religiousness and superstition drowned into everyday's life dullness. The fountain, taking the place of the river, could have worked as a symbol ; unfortunately, it doesn't. A shame, since the directing is very convincing, and the cast nearly ideal. An outstanding Rainer Trost forms a perfect couple with Dagmar Peckova, Kuebler and Delamboye know what they do, like Jane Henschel as Kabanicha. And the fragile, sensitive Angela Denocke in the title-role is the revelation of the evening.
Same contentment, same emotions from the orchestra : Sylvain Cambreling and the Czech Philharmonic combine the slav ardour and the use of folklore with the morbid passions and the harsh colours of the psychological drama. Maybe it was intended to refuse this combination on stage. Maybe it was not the better thing to do.
Go for Kurt Weill
August 18 1998
Kurt Weill : Symphony n°2, Little Symphony, The Seven Deadly Sins
Gottfried Von Einem : Concerto for Orchester op.4
Marianne Faithfull (Anna), Vocal Quartett Hudson Shaw, Radio Symphonieorchester Wien, Dennis Russel Davies (conductor)
August 24 1998
Songs by Eisler, Weill, Satie, Bolcom, , Blake, Poulenc, Gerschwin.
Catherine Malfitano (singer), Robert Twelen (piano).
It wasn't a match, of course. Both could have been a wonderfull idea. Asking to one of the London stage upstanding personnalities to rush into Weill's universe with her own culture, and to one of the most extraordinary opera actresses of our time to reveal herself in such a demanding art - the lied. Marianne Faithfull was fair. No matter the english translation (done during Weill's lifetime after all), nor the transposition one octave lower of Anna's lines. There is definitely something moving in her warm, broken voice - but those wounds might be a bit too deep, and finally short her breathing, threat the lines, and even the intensity of the words. And since Russel-Davies does not show all the irony that this music requires, the evening does not really warm up (save the fantastic male quartett). Malfitano comes with her own vocal problems, but also her energy, her sense of acting with guirlish roughness and impudence when necessary (an incredible "Pirate Jenny"), before sliding into light humour and melancholy (Satie and Poulenc). Ands no need to speak about the dazzling Broadway tunes, or the six encores asked by the public !
Vincent Agrech (August 18), Yi-Heng Chen (August 24)
Like nobody else could
As a farewell to his C.B.S.O., Sir Simon Rattle performs the complete cycle of Beethoven's symphonies in Salzburg. A single evening gives the measure of a rare genius.
August 20 1998
Ludwig van Beethoven : Symphony n°4, Symphony n° 7
Oliver Kussen : Coursing op. 17, Two Organa op. 27
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)
Obvious sign that here is someone special : at the end of the first part, Sir Simon Rattle offers as an encore to his audience who has essentially comen for Beethoven... Oliver Knussen's little organum Notre Dame des Jouets. Delightfull music, followed in the programme by a beautifull Schoenberg style piece, making us forgetting a quite boring Coursing. The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group proudly shows the fruits of ten years working over creations from our time.
Anyhow, the old viennese were right in their way : Beethoven remained the hero of the evening. Beethoven, and Rattle. A devastating Fourth Symphony, a frantic Seventh. You leave the room blazed and dead-bet at the same time - well, maybe the Mozarteum is a bit too small for such an explosion, but nowhere else could you have this feeling to be inside the music ! Hearing is not enough. You must watch Sir Simon conducting. This way he's got of never striking the strong times - just no need to, with a music which rythmical bases are so straight, when you know your musicians and when you took the time to work with them from the very beginning. Since the structure is clear for everybody, he can concentrate on the movement, inviting each voice to come in by leaning forward the musician (sometimes close enough to shake hands !) with an indication of dynamic nuance, and moreover of mood, reflected on the face and in the eyes. No matter if the first violins do not have by nature the brilliant in the mezzo forte, or if the winds do not shine all their glory. Sir Simon is no sound builder, he just makes music comes to life, and fly with a long breath over quick tempi, changing rythm and articulation, suddenly roaring in the tutti. Such bright violence, such freedom in the first movement of the Fourth or in the two lasts of the Seventh, this had remained unheard since Carlos Kleiber.
The complete cycle has to be recorded with Vienna within the next years. And for a view over the one performed in Salzburg, those who can read french should have a look on the comment by Ivan A. Alexandre, probably the only journalist to have attended every concert, in the october issue of Diapason. We'll long for the records. Hoping that Simon Rattle might get into so fruitful collaborations than the one now ending with Birmingham - where he is going to keep, apparently, a pre-eminent place as guest conductor. But, to the point, what is the next step ? Some are talking about Glyndebourne, others about the Berliner Philharmoniker. He just says that he wants to be free for a while, working with Vienna, or the Age of Enlightenment. Time will pronounce. And Rattle's time lies before him.
Waiting news from Mozart
Only two revivals of Mozart operas this year in Salzburg - but good standarts of quality, and some tracks for the new productions to come.
July 25, 28, 31, August 2, 7, 9, 11, 14, 19, 22, 26, 28 1998
Wolfgagng Amadeus Mozart : Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Christine Schäfer (Konstanze), Désirée Rancatore (Blondchen), Paul Groves (Belmonte), Andreas Conrad (Pedrillo), Franz Hawlata (Osmin), Akram Tillawi (Selim)
Mozarteum Orchester, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Marc Minkowski (conductor)
François Abou Salem (director), Akram Tillawi (choreography), Francine Gaspar (sets and costumes), Joël Hourbeigt (lights)
August 15, 17, 20, 23, 25, 27, 29 1998
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Le Nozze di Figaro
Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (Figaro), Barbara Frittoli (Contessa), Dorothea Röschmann (Susanna), Tiziana Tramonti (Marcellina), Olga Schalaewa (Barbarina), Maria Bayo (Cherubino), Dwayne Croft (Conte), Robert Lloyd (Bartolo), Scot Weir (Basilio), Johannes Chum (Curzio), Lynton Black (Antonio)
Wiener Philharmoniker, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Sir Charles Mackerras (conductor).
Joël Lauwers (new directing based on the production by Luc Bondy), Richard Peduzzi (sets), Jacques Schmidt and Emmanuel Peduzzi (costumes), Dominique Bruguière (lights)
Should the History of the Festival be written again in the next decades, Entführung would undoubtedly be quoted as the most remarkable mozartian production presented here during the last years of our century. A Tremendous succes, that had led the responsibles for the programmation to consider a second revival for the summer of 1999.
Unfortunately, the performance on August 22 did not seem to reach the same level than the ones previously given, due to the heavy rains falling on the Residenzhof plastic roof, and moreover to the serious health troubles Christine Schäfer had been through a few days ago. The lovely silver tone was still there tonight, not the dramatic involvement and the vocal boldness which had impressed us so much last summer. Aware of her condition, Marc Minkowski restrained himself from demanding such strong rythmic and dynamic contrasts in "Traurigkeit" and "Martern". Casualties of living music - take care, Christine, and see you in one year. However, the production by François Abou-Salem has considerably improved, without loosing its very unoperatic freshness. Clearer directing of the extras, more readable conception of the main charachters stengthen this unuasally modern and authentic oriental frame. No doubt that Gérard Mortier should plan a tour in the Midle-East !
Compared with Malin Hartelius, Désirée Rancatore is gifted with a sweeter voicing and phrasing but lacks the metallical arrogance on the high notes and the bitchy scenic presence that provided a better balance within the female cast heard last year. Hawlata is still incredible - bully as well as excellent musician, and hilarious comedian-, Conrad efficient. A real surprise came from Paul Groves, now mastering the lenght of breathing, the piani and the colours of the head register which enable his appreciable virtuosity to produce a much stronger impression. Same improvement inside the pit, where the Mozarteum Orchestra revealed new nuances (especially from the winds), and a far better discipline, thanks to the work accomplished with Marc Minkowski during those two summers. The french conductor once again showed himself as one of the best mozartian batons on the international stage, inhabited by the sense of drama, carried by a deep understanding of the music. The voluntary roughness of the turkish elements shall not hide the subtlety of those moments opened to the language of the heart - quite slow tempi, delicacy of the dynamics, extremely natural rythmical transitions.
Succeeding to Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the head of the Wiener Philharmoniker, Sir Charles Mackerras filled with contentment all the Nozze maniacs (to whom I must confess belonging), able to attend a performance saying to themselves, like Rolf Liebermann used to : "Tonight, I listen nothing but the double basses". Underlining voices from the orchestra generally sent backward as horns and violas, accentuating the rythmical bases of the work and looking for very demonstrative contrasts between the tempi, Sir Charles invites us to a new and carefull hearing without making really clear what the point of his search is. During the same finale, one movement can be absolutely fascinating, and the following perfectly unnatural. On my opinion, his recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was much more convincing - the Wiener shall probably not be considered as the best instrument to restore the original balance in a Mozart opera, as its principal quality resides in the strings !
Joël Lauwers has retouched Luc Bondy's production in a quite traditionnal way : attitudes are very theatrical and often static, but sparkled by brilliant ideas and moments of real dramatic tension. The set now appears very classic too (something of the old Cassandre's in Aix-en-Provence...), adequate in acts two and three, poor in act four, though saved by beautifull lightnings (this raising of the dawn).
None of the comprimari will leave a striking memory (Lloyd should be forbidden to sing Mozart, and the Antonio to speak a single word of italian), but the principals go better and form a credible quintet. D'Arcangelo is solid and gifted with beautifull colours, Croft compensates for a strange covering of the sounds and sometimes chaotic phrasing with a strong presence (Mackerras's accompaniment of his aria is one of the best moments of the evening). I like the way Maria Bayo smooths her laser-like high notes ,and the singing is of a very great artist (she looks rather childish than adolescent, even if I would be worried to find those hips to my little brother) ; and apparently, Salzburg likes Dorothea Röschmann : indisputably a fine musician, with fair control over the difficult low-notes of the role, though lacking magic in the tone and expression with the words. Those delivered by Barbara Frittoli in the recitativo sound wonderfully, as the high register of the voice itself. A shame that the medium remains a bit too much in the throat, and that the delicate lyrical phrases as well as the moments of virtuosity appear too demanding for this large, loud material which vibrato does not seem entirely under control.
In spite of those reservations, pleasure was in the air of both evening. No need to say that the aesthetics of the Serail ( production and moreover conducting) seem richer with lessons for the future than Nozze's. But one shall not miss the opportunity to think about it, at a moment when the Festival initiates the new Da Ponte trilogy that will lead it into the new millenium.
Saint François had the answer
You should wonder why, and how it works, but there is simply no need to ask any question. Just live the astonishing experience of an absolute masterpiece.
August 16, 19, 22, 24, 28, 30 1998
Olivier Messiaen : Saint François d'Assise
José Van Dam (François), Dawn Upshaw (Ange), Urban Malmberg (Léon), Chris Merritt (Lépreux)
Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, Kent Nagano (conductor)
Peter Sellars (director), Georges Tsypin (sets), Dunya Ramicova (costumes)
It sounds crazy now, to think that this production has been a subject for so many arguments. If a single widow kind on earth deserves the tragic fate of the indian's, such are the composer's. Jeanne Loriod was in the orchestra tonight - a sign that rejection seems to fade inside the family-in-law.
Peter Sellar's work, matured in Salzburg and Paris, might be his most perfect achievement in the field of opera. But is Saint François a real opera ? Surely not, though the term of oratorio would seem as unapropriate. Orison. Mistery. The only score written in the last quarter of this century to fully integrate all the languages offered to the artist, and make them talk to another like long time companions. As Messiaen and Sellars seem to be. Relations between what we see on the stage and what we hear are so deep that we often have this strange feeling that the music has been conceived for the production instead of the contrary. Sellars reaches the more incredible moments of magic in act 2, when the universe of sounds is also the richest : gestures, screens, lights do not only align on the repeated outbreak of the various melodic themes, but reflect their combination inside the colouristic and harmonical frame. And when this movement tends to tail off into a simple thematic re-exposition, as in act 3, beginning of the last scene, the production also appears to loose its power. Isn't that a perfect marriage ?
Van Dam has been singing the part since the creation of the work in 1983, and he remains a model of nobleness, musical class, clearness with the words, though the voice continues to loose its substance in the lower registers and the expressiveness does not appear to come so much from the inside than it used to. Dawn Upshaw is the sweet of the evening, a cuny, powerfull, mysterious and tender angel at the same time, with a deligthfull sugar voice and an excellent french. Maybe the role of her life, with Ann Trulove. Chris Merritt has found a beautifull second breath to his carreer with the contemporary repertoire, and it seems unbelivable that Urban Malmberg isn't more in demand by the main international stages.
Kent Nagano and the Hallé Orchestra have given a superior reading of the score, mastering its constant difficulties. Saint François requires the conductor to be an architect rather than a poet. Perfect readability of the structure and the lines asociated with such brilliant and expressive colours (including from the chorus) should therefore be considered as a feat.
Please free us from anxiety : dark rumors have been running, that this revival might be the last one. Isn't this production still at the repertoire of the Opéra Bastille in Paris ? Doesn't Salzburg have room to propose it again in the forthcoming years ? Come on, how can you view the future deprived of one of those very few theatrical works that seem able to follow you for a lifetime ?