Cher Public

My God, it’s full of stars!

amazon_farewellIoan Holender was General Manager of the Wiener Staatsoper for nineteen years, the longest anyone has held this post, and the august institution honored him with the gala to end all galas in the final days of his administration.  With the goal of commemorating each of the 40 new productions premiered at the Staatsoper during Holender’s tenure, the sprawling concert lasts over three hours and is spread over two very full DVDs. With over 40 separate selections from most of the world’s great and near great artists, the end result is a little variable but on the whole an evening of very strong music making. 

Zubin Mehta begins the evening by leading the Staatsoper Orchestra in a surprisingly intellectual reading of Wagner’s Rienzi overture, and then after some remarks by Holander himself, the concert gets underway. The big guns are brought out to open, oddly enough, and Plácido Domingo and Antonio Pappano step in for a passionate “Winterstürme.” They are followed by Nadia Krasteva’s performance of “Stride la vampa”, which is so good as to make me wonder why she has not yet been engaged at the Met.

A bumpy rendition of the Contes d’Hoffmann sextet follows, enlivened only by the astonishing Staatsopernchor. Two excerpts from Cosi, “Un aura amorosa” sung with great grace by Michael Schade and a slightly effortful rendition of the “Prenderò” duet by Barbara Frittoli and Angelika Kirschlager, are both conducted listlessly by Franz Wesler-Möst.

You may note already that the order of selections seems to be a bit without rhyme or reason, jumping from composer to composer as it does. The evening is organized to reflect the 40 premieres in roughly chronological order, which presents some odd programming choices. For example, Isolde’s Liebestod, sung with enthralling passion by Waltraud Meier, is placed in the middle of the concerts’ first half, not exactly a place of prominence for such a climactic moment, and is immediately proceeded by “O luce Di quest’anima”, from Linda di Chamounix, with Stefania Bonfadelli coping ably with twittering duties.

The Concert promotes homegrown artists alongside the superstars, such as Kratseva, Boaz Daniel (who gives a wobbly rendition of Herod’s aria from Massenet’s Herodias) and Adrian Erod (defying the fach system to be a striking baritone Loge). Hedwig Pecoraro definitely wins the “What on EARTH?!” award for an aria from the seemingly bizarre Der Traumfeserchen by Wilfried Hiller, which he performs in costume as the title character, a gigantic red ball with a devil’s tail and carrying oversized utensils (oddly, there is no conductor for this selection, I assume by order of the composer.)

While the Staatsopernchor get to shine in “Va pensiero,” the first half of the concert is otherwise dominated by star turns, some more successful than others. Ramon Vargas, who seems to be losing power these days, falters in “Amor ti vieta” from Fedora. Two Thomases, Quasthoff and Hampson, shine in excerpts from Der Schweigsame Frau and Guilliame Tell. Soile Isokosi struggles through an aria from Der Freischultz, but Leo Nucci gives a lesson in Verdian elegance with a piece from I Vespri Sciliani. Charm is provided by Kirschlager and Schade returning for a duet from Die Lustige Witwe and by Samir Pirgu in Rinuccio’s aria from Gianni Schicci. Diana Damrau turns “Ah non credea mirarti” from Sonnambula into a dazzling showpiece, completely obliterating memories of the preceding “Dove sono” (sung by Frittoli).

The second half of the concert begins with Vargas able to muster a successful, expressive Romeo in “Ah, leve-toi, soleil!” and then the quartet finale from Frau ohne Schatten, sung powerfully by Falk Struckmann, Johan Botha, Adrianne Pieczonka and Deborah Polaski.  Botha and Pieczonka both return for other selections, Botha for a remarkable “In fernem Land” and Pieczonka with Genia Kühmeier in a lovely rendition of the Arabella “Aber der Richtige” duet. Married Wagnerians Petra Maria Schnitzer and Peter Seiffert sing five minutes of the Tristan Love duet extremely well, only to be topped by an exemplary “Gluck, das mir verblieb” from Angela Denoke and Stephen Gould. Ferruccio Furlanetto proves again a peerless King Phillipe II in “Elle ne m’aime pas.” Piotr Beczala is glorious as both Faust and Werther, but Charlotte’s letter scene vanishes from memory in the hands of Roxane Constantinescu. Krassimira Stoyanova suffers the same fate in “Se come voi piccina” from Le Villi.

The audience greets each of these excerpts with cheers and applause, but nothing approaches the ovations received by Anna Netrebko following her account of Manon’s Cours-la-reine scene.  Her beguilingly, seductive rendition, with cleaner coloratura than I have heard from her in a long time, sends the audience into a frenzy unlike anything else in the evening. Natalie Dessay, who must follow this with Marie’s second act aria and cabaletta from La Fille du Régiment, is as charming as she can be but if Vienna’s reaction is anything to go by, Netrebko has “won” the battle of the divas by a landslide. (It doesn’t help that Dessay gets saddled with the one serious musical mistake of the evening, in which Marco Armiliato lets the chorus gets seriously out of synch with the orchestra.)

The evening closes out with Verdi. Violeta Urmana sledgehammers her way through  “Pace pace, mio dio;” conversely, Simon Keenlyside is rather underpowered but intelligent in Macbeth’s “Pieta, rispetto.”  Then the evening finally comes to an end with the glorious Falstaff finale, launched by Nucci.

The performance of the chorus and orchestra (barring the one serious mistake during the Fille excerpt) is remarkable throughout. The conducting is a little more varied. Wesler-Möst and Bertrand de Billy do the lion’s share of the conducting, each to uneven effect. Wesler-Möst is clearly at home in Strauss and Korngold while de Billy seems to come alive only in Massenet. Domingo, Armiliato, Pappano, Fabio Luisi, Mehta, Peter Schneider, Simone Young and Guillermo García Calvo step up to the podium for a piece or two. The most successful, on the whole, are Luisi and Pappano, with Domingo proving surprisingly expressive in the Romeo aria.

The Staatsoper gets quite a strong showing here. Despite occasional pitfalls, the level of artistry is quite high. On another level, Since many of the business’ greatest stars are in attendance, and the programming is so varied, I suspect that this concert will provide, for future fans, a wonderful document of the state of opera singing in 2010.

  • peter

    Thanks Baritenor! What a fun review. I’m sorry that Isokoski and Stoyanova didn’t turn in better performances.

    • spiderman

      sorry, it’s just a stupid lie -- listen to the performances on youtube. Isokoski and Stoyanova both belonged to the best appearances that evening. of course bth are subtle and musical and don’t scream on top of their lungs.

  • messa di voce

    No Garanca . . . Baltsa . . . Gruberova . . . Jeritza?

    40 new productions in 19 seasons?

    • sensibility

      Garanca cancelled last minute.It seems Holender was clearly upset and banter her.
      More here

      • gal

        They already had a catfight because of her cancellation of Carmen at the Staatsoper (which was apparently caused more by the decision of not taking Garanca’s husband as conductor for replacing Jansons than real health issues).
        He even said in the press : “Leider kann allzu schnelle Berühmtheit auch den Charakter eines Menschen verändern. Die Art, wie Garanca sich in der Folge von Staatsopernvorstellungen entfernte, war alles andere als vornehm”.

    • For a company that presents a staggering 50 operas per year, two new productions per season (on average) seems awfully low!

      • operacat

        I think that was 40 world premieres of operas.

        • It’s most definitely not. There have been a few important premieres in recent years, though. I just saw Reimann’s Medea recently, which was stunning.

      • Holender was known for cost-cutting, and that included keeping lots of reaaaally old productions. Many of them look quite shabby today. Meyer, the new director, is replacing some of them, but since the repertoire is so big they aren’t all going to go and he’s sprucing up a few each season.

        Broadly speaking, the repertoire consists of a core of productions from the Stone Ages of much-performed works, augmented with additions from the last five or ten years, most of which are of less often performed works. Many of these newer productions are much more Regie than Vienna is usually given credit for, including not only the famous Konwitschny but also Carsen, Decker, Nemirova, Guth, Stein, etc. Needless to say, they’re often a mess in minimally-rehearsed Vienna revivals.

  • Porgy Amor

    Thanks so much, Baritenor. I ordered it immediately after reading your review. It sounds as though the very good justifies sitting through the less-good, as with the two Met galas on DVD, ’83 and ’96.

    There was a DVD of the relevant Cosi with Frittoli, Kirchschlager, and Schade, conducted by Muti. I believe the production was Roberto de Simone’s, and the performance took place in the mid-1990s. I’m glad I got it when it was released a few years ago, because availability seemed to come and go quickly (there isn’t even a listing now at US Amazon; two earlier Muti Cosi DVDs are easier to find). It was just the right time to hear that cast in those roles. Frittoli nowadays evokes sympathy in the wrong ways, as she struggles to develop the musical line with that ever-widening vibrato (I’m actually surprised the Met is having her back in Don G. after those Micaelas in the Eyre show), but she was still at her best in the complete performance. Even Skovhus, whom I usually go out of my way to avoid, isn’t bad.

  • Thanks, Baritenor! Maybe it helps to know that Das Traumfresserchen (it’s spelled and gendered wrong in the post) is a children’s opera?

    Also, totally off-topic, but since Furlanetto in odd roles came up recently: Furlanetto will be reprising his concert South Pacific turn as Emile de Becque at the Volksoper at the end of February. Even more notably, Marjana Lipovsek will be singing Bloody Mary. WTF?

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Are those two DVDs playable on standard players in the US, and can they be ordered on US? It would be fun, if you are not in the mood to watch an entire opera.

    • pernille

      Unless your player is a Sony, it is supposed to be easy to “crack” most any players code so it will play DVD’s from anywhere in the world. Google is your friend when it comes to this. People “disable” the restriction all the time.

      • pernille

        sorry -- “player’s” of course

    • Porgy Amor

      CAP: This is region 0 (as pictured above) and thus compatible with any player, without modification. It is available at US Amazon.

  • gal

    By the way, I wouldn’t call Dessay’s performance that night “charming”. “Painful” seems more adequat to me.

    • MontyNostry

  • papopera

    I believe Massenet’s opera is HÉRODIADE , not HERODIAS

    • Baritenor

      …Shit. You’re right. This is distinctly embarrassing.

    • Regina delle fate

      Well it’s Herodias translated into English, as in Samson and Delilah :)

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Thanks, guys. I ordered the two-DVD set.

  • wotan28

    I was fortunate to be in attendance at this spectacular gala.

    The standouts for me were:

    Waltraud Meier
    Soile Isokoski
    Simone Young
    Anna Netrebko

    I was disappointed there were no solo offerings from Pieczonka who I love.

    I was underwhelmed by Placido Domingo straining every nerve to get through “Wintersturme wichen dem Wonnemond.”

    I was also disappointed that a number of performances did not make the DVD, particularly Franz Grundheber’s “Mag Mondlicht leuchten” from Cadillac.

  • OT: Carmen anyone? It’s on Sirius. Gardner; Hong, Rachvelishvili, Alagna, Szot.

  • Lucky Pierre

    hmmm… there are quite a few misspellings above. krasteva is misspelled in the 2nd mention, also isokoski, and guillaume tell.

    hedwig is a man?

    • Porgy Amor

      Well…Kirchschlager too, in case there is going to be a late edit. Those misspellings did not take away from the usefulness of the review, and I look forward to hearing/seeing this when it gets to me.

  • Henry Holland

    Great headline.

    Have any Parterreans seen the Staatsoper Billy Budd? I have tickets for it in February and was wondering if the staging is any good. I’m also attending the premiere of a new Le Nozze di Figaro conducted by Welser-Most so that should be interesting.

    • The Billy is a Decker production with a very good reputation. I haven’t seen it but am going as well and am looking forward to it. Adrian Eröd is singing Billy, he’s a local favorite and very good.

      The Nozze production, however, isn’t actually new, it’s a Paris production from 2004 that Vienna has imported. You can see it on DVD, conducted by Jacobs, staging-wise it’s mediocre. I’m probably going to that too but am kind of dreading it because the same team’s Don G in December was such a disaster. (Welser-Möst was pretty bad and Martinoty’s production worse.) But with both Schrott (as the Count!) and Pisaroni, at least the cast is very barihunky. Email me if you need Vienna info, I’m here and can usually figure things out.

      • Henry Holland

        Thanks for the info, UZ!


        Bad news about the Figaro, I had a choice between that and Philharmoniker with Bychkov playing:

        Schubert: Symphonie Nr. 2 B -- Dur, D 125
        Wagner: Vorspiel und Liebestod zur Oper “Tristan und Isolde”
        Bartók: “Der wunderbare Mandarin”, Konzertsuite

        Hmmmm…wonder if I can dump my opera ticket and still get a ticket to the Musikverein? I’ll have to dig up some reviews of the Paris staging….

        Thanks for the offer of info, I’ll be in touch as I’m a Wien virgin, I’m sure to get lost a couple of times.

        • I don’t know, you never can tell. The Figaro production isn’t going to set the world on fire but the cast looks better than that of the Don G, and maybe Welser-Möst will have a better night. Philharmoniker concerts can be a mixed bag too, and they’re really at their best in German warhorses, not Bartók. Also the tickets are IMPOSSIBLE. It depends on which series the concert is on, but if it’s a subscription concert your only hope is scalpers ($$$) or commission from the Phil office the Monday before the date. Or standing room (my usual choice). If it’s not subscription, well, by now it’s probably sold out anyways.

          The Philharmoniker is nominally more or less the same thing as the Staatsoper orchestra. It’s remarkable how they can often play in two different locations simultaneously. :) (There are a lot of people in the Staatsoper pool who never get near the Philharmoniker.)

  • Constantine A. Papas

    I listened to Carmen on Sirius. Alagna was above the pack. He’s getting better and better. After the Scala fiasco, he’s all over the place singing better, with more confidence, and a more secure voice.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I spoke with Alagna about the Scala debacle, and he said how grateful he was to Gelb for giving him the opportunity to step in at the Met and perform the role there- it was very much a mutually beneficial thing. Those 2 clearly get on well and I think Alagna is always ready to help out with situations like the Tosca because he knows it can only do his reputation good.

    • I agree. That La Scala Radames seems to have been his “rock-bottom” moment and he’s bounced back remarkably well since.

      I remember reading a comment here that he was having some kind of health/physical/technical/vocal cord issue at the of that Radames that compounded the fact that the role is just a good fit for him.

  • spiderman

    isokoski struggles???? ARE YOU NUTS???

    this was most probably one of the finest sung moments in this concert!

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I’m inclined to agree that the assessment of Isokoski is very unfair- she’s pretty ravishing in what I don’t usually find a very engaging aria on YouTube:

      I don’t detect any struggle in that- restraint, certainly, but no struggle.

      • wotan28

        I agree, Isokoski is ravishing in Agathe’s punishing aria.

      • armerjacquino

        You don’t find it an engaging aria?

        Go and listen to you-know-who’s version IMMEDIATELY.

        • Tamerlano

          I agree that there’s a lot in this review that surprises me. The Isokoski excerpt is exquisitely sung, I think. The aria is exactly the kind of music she excels at…meaning, I guess, that it requires patrician musicianship, instrumental accuracy, and radiant tone.
          Also, am I the only who finds Damrau WRONG WRONG WRONG in this music? She seems to be following in Gruberova’s footsteps by using a cold but exciting voice in music that requires a different set of attributes.

          • I wouldn’t call her all wrong. She certainly doesn’t have an Italianate voice. Her delivery, however, while not ideal, is not that off. And she’s always a dynamic perfromer. I think she’s interesting in this rep, though again, not ideal.

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            Re Damrau: that high note at 6:30 slipped away and she facked it the effect very well … the conductor is also not following her very well in the cabaletta LOVE her!

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            facked = faked

          • gal

            I agree. She is far better in other pieces (Mozart for instance) and she really should stay away from romantic bel canto.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Ha -- I did listen to hers a couple of weeks back actually and I liked it very much.

          My introduction to the piece in the first place was Dame Joan in ultra droopy form which is why I started out thinking of it as a boring aria. I proceded with Te Kanawa, which didn’t really help matters.

  • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

    BTW Happy 70th birthday to Faye Divaway. What a stah!

  • pavel

    Thanks, Baritenor, for the informative review. I just ordered my copy. It was very easy to order from Amazon by clicking on the hyperlinked word “concert” in the first paragraph of the review.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    If you click on the picture, it takes to The 2-DVD set is listed for $26.99. If you click on 18 new line on the same site, it gives different options. I got mine from importcds for $17.71, brand new, factory wrapped. I do this for all CDs, DVDs, and books, even clicking on used ones it gives options for discounted factory new ones.