March 7, 2021

Munich teaches three great opera lessons | Culture


Since last June 27, and until next Wednesday, he has not spent or will spend a single day in Munich without being able to attend one or even – simultaneously – two operatic performances at the highest level. The Opera Festival of the Bavarian capital has become, by variety and quality, a summer attraction that attracts lovers of the genre as a magnet, not only from Munich, where opera has always been an important factor of cohesion and pride social, but also of fans coming from many countries: at the entrance and in the intermediate ones one can hear speaking in many languages ​​in the Nationaltheater and the Prinzregententheater, the two scenarios in which the representations are developed.

In just three days, from Friday to Sunday, two infrequent operas have been heard –The fan of the West from Puccini and Agrippina of Handel– and one of the master titles of the repertoire, The Nuremberg master singers, premiered precisely in Munich 151 years ago: this is a Wagnerian city on all four sides, since the composer enjoyed here the favor and munificence of King Louis II of Bavaria. And by chance, he wanted his representation in the Nationaltheater to coincide on Saturday with the replacement in Bayreuth, another Bavarian town, of the assembly of this same opera premiered at the Festspielhaus in 2017 and which has the stage direction of Barrie Kosky, responsible in turn for the new production of Agrippina: communicating vessels. The other premiere of the Festival has been a Salome entrusted to Krzysztof Warlikowski, which has facilitated, this time with foundation, the comparisons between one and the other, usually spurred by the phonetic similarity between the name and surname of the Australian and the surname of the Polish, although it is difficult to imagine two theater men with more divergent conceptions, attitudes and scenic ways.

The first, and more than pleasant surprise, was to verify on Friday that The fan of the West It can work admirably in an opera house: in fact, it reaped an extraordinary triumph. Released at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910, it constitutes a rarity within the Puccini maturity catalog, as it is preceded by four of the most popular operas in the repertoire (Manon Lescaut, La bohème, Tosca Y Madama Butterfly) and its successors are Il trittico (also released in New York) and the incomplete Turandot, two other usual presences in theaters around the world. In between is the fiasco of La rondine, but it is not easy to venture convincing explanations of why The fan of the West has failed to settle in the repertoire: the very demanding role of soprano, the practical absence of arias to use (we only found one, and the tenor sings it right at the end of the opera) and, a detail that is not negligible, the quasi-appropriation by the Cinema of all the cultural and visual imaginary associated with the American West, are, perhaps, in part in part, responsible for preterition. Even in New York, where it was received triumphantly at the premiere directed by Arturo Toscanini and with the presence of the composer, the work soon fell into oblivion.

The production of Andreas Dresen, son of Adolf Dresen (a famous theater and opera director), achieves a lot with very few means, all strictly theatrical and very wisely calibrated and conjugated. Coming from the world of cinema, Dresen does not fall into the trap of following in the wake of Westerns classics, but it raises the action almost as if it were a nude black movie. With an extremely sober, almost abstract scenography (designed by another son of a great, Mathias Fischer-Dieskau), he creates the right environment for this story of gold diggers, the owner of the room that welcomes them almost like a sister or mother , the bandit who comes to steal his profits and the sheriff from the mining camp. These last two dispute the love of Minnie, a tough woman, accustomed to living among men, but not at all insensitive. His character has nothing to do with the usual Puccinian heroines and, in fact, as with Turandot's, the sopranos showers frequent in the Wagnerian and Straussian repertoires. When New York replenished the opera in 1929, it did so in order to be starred by Maria Jeritza, Strauss's legendary soprano friend, and other more modern performers of the role have been, for example, Deborah Voigt and Nina Stemme. In Munich he has had the greatest credibility Anja Kampe, one of today's great Wagner sopranos and the Isolde of the most recent Tristan und Isolde by Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper in Berlin. His Minnie is tough and delicate to the right extent and his enormous talent as an actress immediately generates a stream of sympathy for the character. On the contrary also that the great heroines of Puccini, does not die at the end, but leaves the camp ready to be happy with the man who has redeemed and whose life has saved twice.

Anja Kampe (Minnie) and Brandon Jovanovich (Dick) on the climax of the third act of 'The West Fanciulla'.


Anja Kampe (Minnie) and Brandon Jovanovich (Dick) on the climax of the third act of 'The West Fanciulla'.

Beside him, Brandon Jovanovich was a noble Dick Johnson, a bandit who, like Minnie, has inherited his father's profession and who commits crimes to support his mother and siblings. With a more natural than refined song and with a not very big voice, it has proved to be a choice as suitable as John Lundgren's for sheriff Jack Rance, another tough guy, almost bronzed, tahur, but of noble spirit, as he demonstrates after losing the poker game with Minnie at the end of the second act (which includes a memorable use of double basses by Puccini, very different from what what Verdi and Richard Strauss had done with them in the highlights of Otello Y Salome). The voice of the Swedish baritone, rocky and gloomy, goes very well for both the character and the production, almost always dark, with lanterns reminding us what these gold diggers are doing there, far from their homes and their families. The fences that we see in the first act reduce the space and suggest that the action does not take place in the vast and unbeatable Wild West of Hollywood cinema, but in a small, bounded, oppressive space, in which the characters are almost caught, with an inevitable physical closeness between them.

James Gaffigan was another gratifying surprise at the head of the formidable Staatsoper orchestra. His direction was idiomatic at all times, intense to the right extent, lyrical in the few moments in which Puccini decides to give free rein to his melodic vein and attentive to highlight at all times the modernity of the instrumentation. At the same time, the American left the singers a lot of freedom to say their phrases, often extremely concise, without a single concerted decision. Released this year in the last season of the Bavarian State Opera, it is certain that for many to attend this new production of The fan of the West It will have been a real discovery. The work has many of the virtues of the great operas of Puccini, while, curiously, here hardly shows any of its blots. It is also less manipulative – in the best sense – of our emotions and, for that reason, everything in it is credible when it is done as it has been done here: as an intimate opera, gloomy, narrative, without unnecessary exoticism and without making us think or a single moment in that supposed absence of "Americanity" or "colorful American" that his first American critics blamed.

When Kirill Petrenko entered the Nationaltheater's pit on Saturday afternoon, applause and bravery worsened before a single note of the tens of thousands contained in the score of The Nuremberg master singers. Almost six hours later, when the third act of the opera ended and the soprano Sara Jakubiak went out to pick it up so that he and the orchestra received their fair prize, the applause and acclamations resembled almost a thunder: Petrenko is an idol in the Bavarian capital and its imminent departure to Berlin has unleashed even more, if possible love, which the muniqueses profess.

It was difficult, however, at first to recognize him as director of Parsifal from last year's festival, after which the instrumentalists of the orchestra threw flowers from the pit, a gesture that will surely be repeated next Wednesday after the last performance of the singing masters, who will put the finishing touch to this year's festival. Petrenko proposed a prelude to the first act of The singing teachers very fast, light almost at some times, in consonance, we discover later, with the production of David Bösch released in the theater three years ago and that, far from the overtly political reading that Barrie Kosky did In the production that was being played simultaneously that same afternoon in Bayreuth, he opts for a much lighter proposal, trivializing even at times a comic work, yes, but that has nothing banal. Admirably executed by the singers and theater technicians, it is his staging that seems more aimed at teenagers than at adults: very visually rich and set in what seems like the poor suburb of a German city half rebuilt after the World War II (although not necessarily Nuremberg, which was devastated by the Allied bombings), is plagued with inconsistencies, with an inconsequential wardrobe (those apprentices!), A Hans Sachs without the slightest hint of nobility (it seems almost a sin roof of greasy hair and scruffy appearance in his van-shoe store), a Walther abounded guitar in hand and a generalized absence of individuality in all the characters, except perhaps David, the best drawn of all. The singing teachers It has many layers, but Bösch seems satisfied installed very close to the surface, brightly plastered, but insufficient, because the onion has more layers. Some spectators laughed at his jokes, but his humor was almost always too primary and predictable.

Wolfgang Koch (Sachs) and Martin Gantner (Beckmesser) in the second act of 'The singing masters of Nuremberg'.


Wolfgang Koch (Sachs) and Martin Gantner (Beckmesser) in the second act of 'The singing masters of Nuremberg'.

Jonas Kaufmann, as is sadly usual, canceled his participation a few days before and, in the absence of the local idol, many people tried to sell their tickets at the theater door. His replacement, Daniel Kirch, was by far the worst of the performance, both for the very poor vocal performance of his Walther, especially at the climax of the song of the third act contest, and for the inevitable comparison with the other two Co-star tenors: Martin Gantner, an excellent Beckmesser (especially acting), and the British Allan Clayton, a David with a fresh voice, splendid German diction and perfect Wagnerian style. The Magdalene of Okka von der Damerau was more convincing than the less subtle and too flat Eva of Sara Jakubiak. Wolfgang Koch was an uneven Sachs, at times routine and others more focused on transmitting the true greatness of his character, although in the capital moments (the great monologue of the third act and the final speech, sad omen of the future misfortunes of Germany) It was not up to the great performers of the role (as Michael Volle in Bayreuth, an irreproachable Sachs and nuanced, perhaps the most complex and complete today). The best Wagnerian song probably rang from the lips of Christof Fischesser, who composed an almost aristocratic Veit Pogner (at least he was dressed decently by Bösch) and raised the interpretative level every time he appeared on the scene. He has just triumphed in Madrid as the theater director of Capriccio and here in Munich he has reaped a formidable triumph. Wagner's operas will have a reference interpreter in the coming years.

Kirill Petrenko maintained that energetic and youthful direction of the beginning in many moments, but his best essences, after arranging with amazing mastery the pandemonium of the end of the second act, he deployed them in the third: in the (model) prelude, in the great monologue of Sachs, in the quintet and throughout the final stretch, in which he obtained an extraordinary response from the orchestra. The singing teachers It is a devilishly difficult opera, but he had it under his control in each and every measure. Contagious perhaps by the lightness of the staging of David Bösch or, which seems more plausible, encouraged by the eagerness to put the pit at the service of that, Petrenko was not always perhaps the deep operatic director to which we are accustomed, but very good ones are required a lot and directing as he did is within reach of very few current batons.

A childish and capricious Nero (Franco Fagioli), manipulated by his mother Agrippina (Alice Coote) in the first act of the opera.


A childish and capricious Nero (Franco Fagioli), manipulated by his mother Agrippina (Alice Coote) in the first act of the opera.

The climax of the weekend was reached on Sunday at the Prinzregententheater. Ivor Bolton and Barrie Kosky, who had previously collaborated on a Handelian work (the production of the oratory Saul premiered at Glyndebourne in 2015), they have managed not to permanently keep the attention of the spectators who filled the theater for almost four hours, but to thrill them, provoke their laughter, implicate them in the story that was being told and confirm that a well-played baroque opera, Well sung, well conceived and well acted can become an irresistible spectacle for a modern audience.

In a completely bare scenario, a rectangular box, which can be broken into three, which in turn house different spaces inside, visible – in whole or in part – or invisible depending on the position of the blinds of slats, is all what Kosky needs to move the action forward, sometimes with signs of opera buffa, as when the three men who chase her, others as farce and, more often than not, coincide in Poppea's room as a combination of high politics and low passions. Everything triggers Agrippina, whose only obsession is the arrival of his son Nero to the throne of Rome. Manipulative, liar, player with the marked cards and with several decks simultaneously, vampirizes her son and uses unscrupulously with everyone – Nero included, brushing on the incestuous – her well-oiled erotic arid to achieve her goals. Kosky has admitted that his inspiration to shape the character has been Claire Underwood, the character that Robin Wright embodies in the television series House of Cards. And the magnitude and scope of its power are symbolically expressed when, with an imperious gesture of authority directed towards the pit, it abruptly interrupts the da bonnet from an aria of Poppea, "È a focus quel d’amore”: In case there is any doubt, she is the absolute sovereign, on and off the stage.

Kosky makes virtue of necessity and, instead of bothering him with the extensive recitations, he always translates them with ingenuity (included parts) and as an essential tool to help us understand the characters. A paradigmatic example is when the theater is illuminated to become the “piazza del Campidoglio”Of the libretto: the spectators are suddenly“ the people ”, those“ friends ”to whom Nero is addressing, shaking hands and distributing hugs in the front row of the armchair. Nothing different from what we see politicians do during the electoral period. The brutal violence that Lesbo exercises with Ottone, pulled by Narcissus and Pallante, while singing the recitative “Otton, what portentous fulmine è questo?"Also remember that everything goes against the enemies of the powerful. And what a great success it is to end the first part of the show, in the middle of the second act, with the subsequent aria of a bloody Ottone, “Voi che udite il mio lamento”, Which turns off all the previous laughs and shows the other side of the coin without ambiguity.

In some moments the big box bothers more than it helps, but there are so many things that it allows to do and so rich the scenic possibilities that Kosky knows how to extract from it, that his presence is welcome, always illuminated by an intense white hospital light that allows almost radiography to the characters and, sometimes, to dazzle us literally with the brightness of their miseries. Although everyone shares shame, Agrippina, for whom people are mere objects to use and throw away, is the one who tries to control the threads of all their puppets. And Alice Coote recreates it in a truly extraordinary interpretive display: everything Kosky asks for (and the details that need to be reflected in her performance are infinite) she performs perfectly with gestures and movements, while singing with intensity, throwing and intention. In the end, thanks to the resignation of Otto to the throne, he achieves his only objective, but we see her crestfallen, alone, lost, abandoned by all while, instead of the fine lie that the Aryan of Juno and the ballo final (out of place in Barrie Kosky's acid conception), the orchestra plays an instrumental lament, the transcription of an aria of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, also from Handel.

Emperor Claudius (Gianlucca Buratto) and the courtesan Popea (Elsa Benoit) in the third act of 'Agrippina'.


Emperor Claudius (Gianlucca Buratto) and the courtesan Popea (Elsa Benoit) in the third act of 'Agrippina'.

Elsa Benoit composes an excellent Popea, far superior to the one she sang in a concert version at the Teatro Real a few months ago, as Andrea Mastroni’s performance as Pallante and Franco Fagioli as Nerón are better, both also present in Madrid with Joyce Di Donato The tendency to histrionics of the Argentine contratenor, always in his sauce in the roles of evil and unscrupulous heroes, has been tempered here, and much, by Kosky and Bolton. His song has a multitude of devotees, despite the fixed sounds, the sometimes hurtful timbre, the mechanical coloration and somewhat gallinaceous, and a diction that rarely allows us to understand what he sings. Beside him, Iestyn Davies represents exactly the opposite values: a beautiful bell, a crystalline Italian and a smooth and angled singing line. Here he also reveals himself as an excellent comic and tragic actor. But Fagioli is a born comedian, a provocative almost, and the exotic (his timbre of tiple is, without any doubt) always has his audience. Excellent and without excess the Claudius, more attentive to the charms of Popea than to the affairs of State (“disapplicato & innamorato", Reads in the"argument”Of the libretto), by Gianluca Buratto.

On the musical direction of Ivor Bolton (another director revered in Munich) only praise can be poured, because he does wonders in front of a mixed set of modern and baroque instruments: he was the one who, in the nineties, taught this orchestra to play the Baroque repertoire in style and with expressiveness, but without excesses or dawns. The rope section is brilliantly headed by Barbara Burgdorf and Bolton has gathered from a group of faithful in the group of the continuum, prodigious and multicolored throughout the afternoon, which highlights the precise and enthusiastic work of Christopher Bucknall to the key and the organ , the latter a true timbral finding in many of the recitatives and arias. Bolton himself accompanied alone the key the aria of Popea “Esci, or mine, esci dal duolo”(Which is usually omitted because it appears crossed out in the manuscript and is reused in La Resurrezione and Il trionfo del dempo e del disinganno) and it could be perceived in it, in nuce, the reason for the excellence of an instrumental version always commanded with authority. The British director, always more attentive to inspire than to lead, gets the orchestra to capture, one by one, his musical ideas, which reflect, complement, contradict or incite how much we see on stage. The orchestra, in Handel, can never be a mere stone guest.

On Sunday the opera was offered live, and free, on streaming on the television channel of the Bavarian State Opera and it will remain available until August 12 for those who want to corroborate or disagree with what is written here. The intent of the theater, Nikolaus Bachler, declared at the premiere that they had decided to dedicate this production of Agrippina Sir Peter Jonas, who, despite his extreme physical fragility, has been present these days in all the functions of Handel's opera, a composer who, precisely with Ivor Bolton as a musical stronghold, he contributed as nobody in the 1990s of the last century to resituar in the first line of the world operatic map. "Sounds like I've already died," was the response of the Briton, who directed the Bavarian State Opera for thirteen crucial years and whose legacy is still very much alive, as much as himself. Fortunately.

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