Ambitious Parsifal

Wagner’s Parsifal both attracts and repels.  It has gorgeous music but a problematic plot that, on the surface, is a weird mash up of Christian symbolism, medieval romance and (more than likely) anti-Semitism.  With reference to the latter it’s no great surprise that an Israeli conductor taking on the work would want to take an approach that deals with that aspect head on.  That’s what Omer Meir Wellber does, with the willing collaboration of director Graham Vick in a production staged and recorded at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo in 2020.

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A metatheatrical Tannhäuser

The more I see of Tobias Kratzer’s work the more impressed I get.  Here we look at his 2019 production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Bayreuth.  It’s the kind of production that traditionalists get off on hating and there were boos at curtain call though they were absolutely drowned out by a storm of applause and stomping.  Personally, I found it insightful, at times very funny, and deeply, deeply moving.

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Live from Salzburg

00028948619290-CvrLive from Salzburg is a new CD featuring music recorded live at Salzburg during the pandemic.  The performers are Elīna Garanča, The Vienna Philharmonic and Christian Thielemann.  There are two sets of songs; Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder (recorded in 2020) and Mahler’s Rückert Lieder (recorded in 2021).  Both recordings were made during live performances in the Großesfestspielhaus.

I like Garanča a lot in this music.  Sometimes I find her a bit “cold” but here there’s a really nice balance of emotion and clarity.  Her articulation of the text is excellent and she sounds good throughout her range.  The lower and middle ranges have a kind of burnished quality; not really dark but definitely not soprano like , while her upper register is controlled and smooth.  The low end is perhaps best heard in Um Mitternacht where she shows real power and depth of emotion.

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Lyrical Walküre

The thing that struck me most about the Royal Opera House’s 2018 recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre is how lyrical it is.  It’s not without excitement in the appropriate places, far from it, but there’s such lovely singing.  Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde is tender and poetic and the combo of Stuart Skelton and Emily Magee as the twin lovers is really good.  Throw in a nuanced Wotan from John Lundgren and a typically elegant performance from Sarah Connolly as Fricka and it’s really a pleasure to listen to.  Ain Anger is not so lyrical as Hunding but it’s a fine menacing performance.  Antonio Pappano and the house orchestra are equally fine.

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Euryanthe

Weber’s 1823 “Grand-heroic opera” Euryanthe doesn’t get performed very often.  It’s not hard to see why even though Christof Loy’s production for the Theater an der Wien filmed in 2018 has some interesting features.

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COC orchestra at Koerner Hall

Last night Koerner Hall live streamed a concert by the COC orchestra conducted by Johannes Debus with guest soloist Adrienne Pieczonka. It was a mostly Beethoven concert bookended by the Egmont Overture and the Symphony No.2. In between came a set of more Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner sung by Adrienne.

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Minimalist Lohengrin

There’s obvious irony in a Hungarian directing Wagner’s Lohengrin; even more so when that director sees in Wagner’s Brabant parallels with Orban’s Hungary.  It’s quite interesting to see how this plays out in Árpád Schilling’s production recorded at Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2018.  The first thing to say is that this is an extremely minimalist production with a circle on stage , a curved back wall and not much else, though a bed appears in Act 3.  It’s very monochrome; the stage and the characters are all more or less in shades of grey until late in the second act when the Vier Edelknaben (here definitely women) and then the chorus appears in colourful but still eclectically modern, casual outfits.  The only real device for telling the story, apart, from the words and music, is the way groups of characters are arranged on stage.

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Spare and compelling Tristan

I’m rarely disappointed by a Pierre Audi production and his Tristan und Isolde for Teatro dell’opera di Roma, recorded in 2016, was far from that.  It’s a bit of a slow burn but then so, really, is the work itself.  It’s starkly simple.  The sets contain few elements and no fuss.  Costuming is almost drab but the direction of the singers is compelling and it builds to a brilliant staging of the Liebestod with Isolde silhouetted, motionless in a kind of frame and absolutely nothing happening which, paradoxically, is riveting.

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An afternoon with Adrianne

There’s something very special about a song recital by a really good singer at the top of his/her game in a space conducive to song.  The stars conjoined yesterday to yield a recital by Adrianne Pieczonka with pianist Rachel Andrist in the song friendly acoustic of Mazzoleni Hall, as part of the Mazzoleni Songmasters series.

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Schumann and Wagner

pregardiengeesI’ve been listening to Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees’ new Schumann and Wagner recording for a number of reasons.  I was very impressed with Prégardien when he appeared at Toronto Summer Music in 2018.  I’m not familiar with the Schumann Op.90 Lenau Lieder und Requiem.  I don’t think I have ever heard a tenor sing the Wesendonck Lieder.  And, this is the first SACD of a song recital to come my way and I wanted to see if it made any appreciable difference.

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