The orchestral life of Munich is in the hands of three talents from the East. At the head of the State Opera of Bavaria since 2013, the Russian Kirill Petrenko; as head conductor of the Munich Philharmonic two years later, his compatriot Valeri Guérguiev; Lastly, the Latvian Mariss Jansons has been in charge of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for more than fifteen years. The quality of the three formations is a thermometer that reveals the daily musical excellence available to everyone in the Bavarian capital. With the possible exception of London, which sextuple the population of Munich, there is perhaps no other city in the world that can boast of having a trio of orchestras of such quality.
This weekend, an operatic performance by Petrenko coincided with a new production of Otello, and a monographic concert dedicated to Gustav Mahler by Guérguiev the previous day. The first had the incentive to once again unite on stage a Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros, two local idols that have starred together numerous operas. And although perhaps neither of them is on paper, at least at this point in their careers, the ideal singers to address the leading roles of Shakespeare's tragedy, both have once again demonstrated that, beyond vocal problems or inadequacies, they are two huge artists who, spurred by Petrenko's talent, can electrify the audience of a great theater. And there was not a free seat at the Munich National.
Amélie Niermeyer's new production is probably not great, but it is a paragon of small cumulative virtues that possesses the immense merit of faithfully serving at all times both the text of Boito and the music of Verdi, without anything squeaking between what It looks and what you hear. His dramaturgy is born directly from one and the other, with the position of the characters and the distances between them perfectly conceived and measured, and with original and full of interest notes, like letting us see during the initial storm to Anja Harteros, agitated and nervous, trapped inside his bedroom, while the choir, Iago and Roderigo sing, below and in darkness, without being illuminated. Niermeyer decides to show us Desdemona in many moments where he neither sings nor would have to be on stage, making it, rather than victim, the center of gravity of what happens around him. There is always at least one bed on the stage and the whole plot develops very close to them and in an interior, a large bedroom that can accommodate another smaller one that ends up moving and getting lost in the background. The costumes are effective and of great sobriety, the lighting usually reflects the state of the characters' soul and the simple videos that metaphorize the mental state of Desdemona, with the bedroom spinning like his own mind at the start of the second and third acts , they bring their character closer to Goethe's Gretchen, whose spinning wheel incessantly similarly resembles her inner uneasiness, the lost peace and the sorrowful heart.
Anja Harteros gives life to a credible Desdemona, stronger than weak, more dramatic than lyrical, better at the end of the third act than in the fourth, although these are minimal differences in a high level vocal and stage performance. Jonas Kaufmann, a Munich worshiped by his people, premiered the role of Otello at the Royal Opera House, a few months after his reappearance after leaving behind his biggest vocal crisis to date. He is probably better now than he was then, but he has not been the singer before those physical problems and the evidence points to his never being able to be again. If before the intuition and their innate gifts prevailed, now it is the technique and the experience that supplies any deficiencies. His voice has lost enamel, freshness and ease of emission, but the tenor is still a master of the half voices, of the clear diction, of the well-stamped bass, of the musical construction of the phrases. On stage he is always credible and his way of dying and saying his last words in the fourth act was a lesson for anyone who wants to sing this role. Having Harteros by his side, with whom he has shared so many afternoons of glory and whom he knows so well, no doubt motivates him and makes him an even better artist.
In the final round of applause he did not lose in comparison with those received by the two protagonists the Canadian Gerald Finley, who composes a very restrained Iago, whose evil is more invisible than visible and whose perfidy is always natural, something so consubstantial to his personality that does not require any effort to express or materialize it. As he sings in his creed – or perhaps anticredore – of the second act, "I am evil because I am a man". And Finley seems to have also read the description of the character that Arrigo Boito wrote for the Scenic arrangements of the opera prepared by Giulio Ricordi: "The grossest mistake, the most vulgar mistake that an artist can make when trying to interpret this character is to represent him as a demon-man, make him adopt the Mephistophelic expression on his face, and force him to put satanic looks. " The baritone does not fall into any of these traps: it sings with the same normality with which it intrigues, it hurts with the same determination with which it envies, it destabilizes everything around it with its trills (seconded or not by those of the orchestra) exactly with the beast virulence with which he hates his enemies. His voice is always homogeneous and noble, with an Italian diction of the highest school.
Even having a trio of singers so wise, so professional and so able to awaken the empathy of the audience at the moment, they could never have reached the highest musical levels that have been achieved had they not been on the podium, concluding everything with an overwhelming domain , Kirill Petrenko, to whom no masterpiece seems to be foreign and who led with the same capacity of conviction with which he snatched everyone, his own orchestra included, last summer in Parsifal in this same theater. Few directors can succeed equally, with a few months apart, in two scores as dissimilar as Otello Y Parsifal (although the last act of Verdi's opera contains what seems like a non-casual quote from one of the main themes of Wagner's last stage work). Petrenko has done it and this Otello It would be enough to consider him one of the best Verdian directors of recent decades. From the initial overwhelming storm, with its outrage and its discharge of perfectly calibrated energy, to the delicate music that closes the opera, which recalls the already by far distant love duo of the first act, everything sounded like a constant show of theatricality well understood: Petrenko always directs the service of the scene, never to please the public. Where other directors get carried away by the easy or bulky, the Russian continues polishing every detail, chiseling every dynamic, riveting every chord: the orchestral ends of the second and third acts, for example, pure procedure in other versions, were a perfect sample of it. It is possible that the loudest applause in the fifteen minutes during which the audience cheered on the architects of this great Otello After the curtain fell, it was precisely those dedicated to Petrenko, a director who never has ups and downs, who never disconnects what he is doing (what a way to ask more and more to his orchestra in certain passages!) and that, as the most large, is able to control what happens while leaving freedom for all to contribute their individualities without allowing them to be cut off from the podium.
Valeri Guérguiev could preach almost the opposite: except in very specific repertoires that must touch him very closely, he spends more time disconnected than truly engaged in the music he directs. The Muscovite also represents values and attitudes that are impossible to find in the humble and elusive Petrenko, a lover of swimming in very few waters and of immersing himself in the one to which he has decided to dedicate all his efforts (today, in Munich, tomorrow, in Berlin). Guérguiev aspires to be, on the other hand -and his commitment sometimes leads him to achieve it-, a cosmic director, capable of almost acting in the same day in two or three very distant places of the planet (the farther away, the better), friend to taste all the wines and to get medals himself or to exercise a good degree of interposed person so that others can put them on, as when he led the newly reconquered Palmira among the ruins.
On the Mahler program that has interpreted this weekend in Munich, it is only necessary to express congratulations, since both the Fourth Symphony as The song of the earth they premiered just in Munich, in 1901 and 1911, respectively, the second few months after the death of the composer. And it is also possible to find similarities in deeper substrates, as happens if we read the indication that Mahler wrote at the end of Ruhevoll, the superb slow movement of the Symphony (the favorite of its author and Richard Strauss), which is repeated as it is at the very close of The farewell, the last – and also the best – of the songs that make up The song of the earth: "gänzlich ersterbend"(" Completely extinguished ").
As often happens to him so often, Guérguiev was perfectly unpredictable, alternating a multitude of irrelevant, routine, even vulgar passages, with flashes of the great director who can certainly be if he gets to it. The least of it is his strange and heterodox gesticulation, including his use of a size XS baton. The worrying thing is that he seems to get involved and really concentrate on what he does only at specific moments. He offered us his best side in the last movement of the Fourth Symphony, the roundest moment of the whole concert, in which he accompanied "so extremely discreet", as Mahler demands, the soprano Anna Lucia Richter, who sang this same work a couple of weeks ago in Madrid with Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna. Here both their vocal performance and instrumental packaging were better. In the second part, however, The song of the earth He did not offer a single continuous example of this interpretive level. A huge orchestra, with the same string staff as the symphony (16 first violins!), Too often sounded limp in a version that, unlike the one Bernard Haitink led in Berlin two years ago, had very little spiritual.
In the odd movements, Guérguiev would have done very well to let himself be carried away by the drive and extraversion of Andreas Schager, one of the great heroic tenors of today, as he has shown on many occasions, and especially in the new Tristan und Isolde of the Berlin Staatsoper under the direction of Daniel Barenboim. Still located on the side of the stage, the Austrian tenor concentrated all eyes on himself and it is hard to imagine a voice more appropriate than his to sing this drunk and exalted music. By contrast. the mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner was an irrelevant soloist of the peer movements, which embody the composer's melancholic and autumnal side. The orchestra showed that its great asset is the wind section, of a high quality without fissures, something that could not be appreciated in the monumental string. And, compared to the orchestra of the opera, the latter exhibited a superior quality: even the tricky solo of the basses of the fourth act sounded with unusual perfection, on the contrary, for example of what happened at the premiere of the last Otello London under the direction of Antonio Pappano. The numerous empty seats in the Philharmonie am Gasteig, despite the attractiveness of the program, make you think about the success of the Russian director in his Munich stage.
Munich will continue to arrive in Russia, because from 2021, Vladimir Jurowski will take over from Kirill Petrenko in front of the Bayerische Staatsoper. It will be very difficult for him to be at his height and to awaken as much sympathy and admiration as those he reaps here, function after function, his compatriot. But the Bavarians have returned to choose well, forgetting rancid nationalisms, which have inflicted so much pain in the past, and looking for talent wherever you are.