Tag Archives: Wagner

Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2017

In Wagner’s final and most abstract opera, Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s superb production sets the mystical land of the Grail in the Middle East. The exact location appears fleetingly on a map during the Act 1 journey to the Grail ceremony where Gurnemanz explains that space and time become one, which they do at the speed …

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Tristan und Isolde, Bayreuth Festival, July 2017

At the end of Petra Lang’s beautifully sung Liebestod following her glorious performance of Isolde, a loud lonely boo broke the magic of this sublimely sung performance under the baton of Christian Thielemann. This was no criticism of Ms Lang nor Mr Thielemann, but a clearly premeditated, and hugely ill-mannered, expression of one person’s anger …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bayreuth Festival, July 2017

Wagner’s Nuremberg is a city of trials: Walther’s trial by the Mastersingers in Act 1, Beckmesser’s trial by Sachs as he delivers his serenade in Act 2, and their separate trials by the people in Act 3. Yet fifty years after Wagner’s death, Hitler took power and Nuremberg became the venue for those post-war Nazi …

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Die Walküre, Grange Park Opera, GPO, West Horsley Place, July 2017

The recent tendency to set operas in the period leading up to the first world war seems to inspire this production by Stephen Medcalf. The Valkyries are in spiked helmets, Wotan is a general, and we are in a grand house furnished with varying collections of such things as butterflies and daggers. In addition to …

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Tristan und Isolde, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, June 2017

Since this opened in 2015 celebrating sesqui-centenary of the opera, I have attended two other productions plus a terrific concert performance at Grange Park last summer, and one thing is clear. Less is more. While Bayreuth’s 2015 production abandoned their previous directorial absurdities the English National Opera went in the other direction with pretentious fussiness …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, March 2017

As the Royal Opera and Kasper Holten part company, this is his last throw of the dice. Like many continental European directors he delivers us a ‘concept’, and in the first two acts I was puzzled to know why it necessitated the abandoning of the church, Sach’s house, Pogner’s house, and the street. Act I …

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Tannhäuser, Longborough Opera, LFO, June 2016

At this performance on June 11th, the Queen’s official 90th birthday, the orchestra and chorus started with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem before the opera itself — a nice touch. The subsequent performance was a stunning success for Neal Cooper, making his first appearance in the title role under conductor Anthony Negus, who …

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Tristan and Isolde, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2016

This new production by incoming artistic director Daniel Kramer is his first full-length opera for the ENO — he previously directed a fine Bluebeard’s Castle as part of a double bill in 2009 — so it was intriguing to see the result. There was a plethora of ideas, too many for my liking, and greater …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne, GFO, May 2016

The first revival of this David McVicar production, with its glorious designs by Vicki Mortimer, beautifully lit by Paule Constable, seems even better than it did five years ago. As Wagner’s only comic opera — apart from his very early Liebesverbot — Meistersinger needs the light touch that McVicar so ably gives it. The marvellous …

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Tannhäuser, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2016

This first revival of Tim Albery’s 2010 production was very welcome, with a cast in some ways stronger than that of five seasons ago. The most prominent feature of the production is the on-stage version of the main proscenium arch complete with Royal Opera House curtains, representing the entrance to the Venusberg. Its later decayed …

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Das Liebesverbot, in concert, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall, 25 October 2015

This boisterous, comic opera by the 22-year-old Wagner was entirely outside his subsequent metier, and very different from his first opera Die Feen, completed a year earlier. It is also his only one based on a Shakespeare play, in this case the aptly named Measure for Measure — judge not lest ye be judged. The …

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Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2015

Following the hugely successful season opener of Tristan und Isolde the previous night — see my review in the Telegraph — it was a pleasure once again to see Hans Neuenfels’ 2010 production of Lohengrin, now on its final lap before leaving the repertoire. With the folk of Brabant represented as rats and mice, along …

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Tristan und Isolde, Longborough, LFO, June 2015

This opera opened in Munich on 10 June 1865, so the Longborough production is very much a sesqui-centenary. And LFO did it proud with a dramatically intense performance of this “most musical of Wagner’s works” under the baton of Anthony Negus, who conducted the Ring here two years ago. As soon as the first bars …

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Tannhäuser, Staatsoper Berlin, April 2015

Having dancers in the Venusberg scene of Tannhäuser is quite normal, but dance company director Sasha Waltz, who created this opera production, took their use too far. It is fine up to a point to include dancers among the wonderful chorus of pilgrims, but by the second half of Act II they were getting in …

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The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2015

Although one of the greatest operas ever written, it is not unknown for directors and conductors to make a mess of it, even at Wagner’s own temple in Bayreuth, but not at the ENO, thank God! This resounding success throws down the gauntlet to those Beckmessers in the Arts Council who not only mark down …

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Parsifal, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2013

The Royal Opera House’s choice for Wagner’s bicentenary is a new production of Parsifal by director Stephen Langridge and designer Alison Chitty, the same team who gave us Birtwistle’s Minotaur five years ago. Here they achieved similar dramatic clarity using a Cube, which changes from opaque to translucent to open, partly to illustrate scenes from …

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Parsifal, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2013

The Albert Hall was the first venue for a concert performance of Parsifal, at least in England, just two years after the Bayreuth premiere of 1882. At that time copyright protection restricted staged performances to Bayreuth, but who needs a full staging? This 2013 performance with powerful musical direction by Mark Elder, and subtle stage …

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Wagner’s Ring: Rheingold and Walküre, Bayreuth, August 2013

After the finest Rheingold I have ever heard, at the Proms with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle this summer, it would be churlish to draw comparisons with the Bayreuth orchestra under Kirill Petrenko. They played well, and there were some lovely moments, yet the production by Frank Castorf treated it as background music. Rheingold …

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Tannhäuser, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2013

This was an intriguing performance of Tannhäuser, with Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, as chief conductor of the first and music director of the second. After the long overture, there floated down from high in the gallery the lovely voices of several chorus ladies …

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Götterdämmerung, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013

At the end, Barenboim held his baton up, and five thousand people held their applause. As he let the baton drop the cheers started, and continued until he came on one last time to make a small speech, thanking the orchestra, singers, and indeed the audience for its wonderful silence and rapt attention. He also …

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Tristan und Isolde, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013

One of the great things about opera at the Proms, apart from the avoidance of strange fancies by the stage director, is being able to see the orchestra and instrumental soloists. This was particularly valuable towards the end of Act I as the chorus of sailors at the rear made their presence felt, and the …

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Siegfried, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013

A young man brought up in a foreign country encounters an old man who gets in his way, so he sweeps him aside with his sword, not knowing it is his grandfather. Shades of the Oedipus myth here, but the curse comes not from marrying his mother but taking the Ring. The old man, Wotan, …

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Die Walküre, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 23 July 2013

At both La Scala and the Berlin Staatsoper, I saw Daniel Barenboim conduct similar casts, in the same production by Guy Cassiers whose Walküre Act III is shown on the front cover of the BBC libretto. The Proms have brought over the Staatsoper orchestra from Berlin, which forms a terrific team with Barenboim conducting, and …

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Das Rheingold, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2013

What a terrific start to the Ring this was. Even before Daniel Barenboim entered the auditorium, to huge applause, there was a real buzz of anticipation and it all ended with a sustained ovation. I was not intending to write this up until the end of the cycle, particularly having heard the same conductor and …

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Wagner Dream, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, June 2013

This was the first staged production of Jonathan Harvey’s opera Wagner Dream, first performed by Netherlands Opera in Luxembourg in 2007, and in concert at the Barbican in January 2012. Harvey’s opera is set in Venice on the day of Wagner’s death in 1883, and within ten minutes the composer, very well played by actor …

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Lohengrin, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, May 2013

At the end of this illuminating new production by the WNO, Elsa’s younger brother Gottfried assumes the symbols of power left for him by Lohengrin, causing the assembled forces of the army, except the King and Herald, to cower away. He then raises his hand against Ortrud in her glorious red dress, and she crumples, …

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Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

When the Rheinmaidens playfully tease Siegfried at the start of Act II, their musical movements were far better than the unmusicality of the irritatingly intrusive dancers, who reappeared in this final part of The Ring. Their manipulation of silk sheets was fine, but this is the first time I have seen opera ladies move more gracefully …

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Siegfried, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

The first two operas of this cycle experienced slight problems: orchestra lights failed a couple of times during Rheingold, and stage backdrop lighting flashed and failed in Walküre. But Siegfried saw a more serious disruption when the eponymous hero failed to show up for Act I. Why, we were not told, but the role was admirably …

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Die Walküre, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

What a spectacular ending to Act III this was, equalled in my recent memory only with Barenboim in the same production at La Scala in December 2010. His sensitive handling of the orchestra framed those hugely gentle scenes between the sympathetic Wotan of René Pape and the intensity of Iréne Theorin as his daughter Brünnhilde, when …

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Die Feen, Chelsea Opera Group, Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 2013

Wagner was 20 when he wrote this opera, and it was never performed in his lifetime. Seeing it in Fulham forty years ago I was amazed at its sophistication, and delighted with the Chelsea Opera Group’s concert performance last night. The two main characters, Arindal and Ada have the same names as in Wagner’s first …

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Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 2 March 2013

A stunning performance with a wonderful cast under superb musical direction by Daniele Gatti could make for a series of tiresome superlatives, so I shall start with a more interesting observation. This endlessly intriguing opera allows every production to bring out some new aspect. The brilliant Bayreuth production relates it to the history of Germany …

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Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

Under Antonio Pappano’s direction the orchestra gave us a lyrical and multi-layered interpretation of Wagner’s score, ranging from soft moments to huge power. After the prologue with the Norns, followed by Brünnhilde and Siegfried, things really opened out in Act I with John Tomlinson as Hagen in the hall of the Gibichungs. He was riveting …

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Siegfried, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

Wotan’s meeting with Erda that starts Act III of Siegfried is a focal point in his demise.  After awakening her for advice she tells him to ask Brünnhilde, their daughter bold and wise, but learning Wotan has cast her aside, she asks why he who taught defiance punished defiance, why he who ruled by vows now …

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Die Walküre, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

A pivotal point in Wagner’s Ring is Act II scene 1 in Walküre where Fricka faces her husband Wotan. A strong presence is vital here and Sarah Connolly gave a superb portrayal, avoiding the danger of playing her as overbearing but firmly and gently persuading her husband that he is in serious error. It was beautifully done, and she …

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Das Rheingold, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

This prologue to Wagner’s Ring promises a feast of fine singing and acting in the remaining three operas of the cycle. Bryn Terfel sang as well or better than I have ever heard him in the role of Wotan, emphasising maturity and self-awareness, showing he realises he has set in motion something against which the …

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Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2012

The present extraordinary Bayreuth production by Stefan Herheim portrays Germany from before the First World War to the aftermath of the Second, with Parsifal representing the true spirit of the country, and Amfortas the one that lost itself in Nazi times. It all starts during the overture, with Parsifal’s mother Herzeleide close to death. Lying …

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Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2012

This intriguing production by Hans Neuenfels, now in its third year, concentrates on the people rather than the distant historical setting in which Wagner sets his opera. The stage action starts already during the overture with Lohengrin in an antiseptically white room trying to get out, which he eventually achieves by simply walking backwards through …

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Der fliegende Holländer, Bayreuth Festival, July 2012

The 2012 Wagner festival at Bayreuth started in dramatic fashion when the singer in the title role for a new production of The Flying Dutchman suddenly pulled out. Evgeny Nikitin, covered in body-tattoos from his former career as a heavy-metal singer, found himself the focus of attention, and although claims of a swastika seem unfounded, his …

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Götterdämmerung, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, July 2012

After the success of previous years with Rheingold, Walküre and Siegfried, and now with this production of Götterdämmerung, Longborough Opera is ready for a full Wagner Ring next summer. The gold stolen from the Rheinmaidens, which Alberich turned into a ring of great power and Wotan stole from him to pay for Valhalla, is eventually returned …

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Götterdämmerung, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2012

Rossini is said to have commented that Wagner had some beautiful moments, but terrible quarters of an hour. Whether this is genuine, I don’t know, but Rossini never heard Götterdämmerung, which is riveting, from the Norns with their rope of fate at the start to Brünnhilde’s immolation at the end. In the right hands with the right singers Götterdämmerung is magnificent, and …

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Götterdämmerung, The Ring, and the Euro

As the Metropolitan Opera in New York completes its Ring cycle with Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), could there be an analogy with the fate of the Euro? My review of the Met’s live relay of Götterdämmerung will appear on February 12. Eurodämmerung Wagner’s Ring starts with the Niebelung, Alberich forging a ring of power from …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, December 2011

This was Antonio Pappano’s first Meistersinger for the Royal Opera, and from the start of the overture to the final chords of Act III, more than five hours later, his peerless conducting drove Wagner’s comedy forward with huge effect. The chorus too was excellent, from the first four-part harmony in the church to their final embrace of Sachs …

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Siegfried, Metropolitan Opera, Met live cinema relay, November 2011

This production by Robert Lepage, brilliantly conducted by Fabio Luisi, brings nuances in the score and the libretto that had previously passed me by …

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Der Fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2011

Jeffrey Tate in the orchestra pit gave Wagner’s Flying Dutchman a wonderful clarity, helped of course by the singers, particularly Anja Kampe as a beautifully pure voiced Senta. This was the role in which she made her Covent Garden debut when the production was new in 2009. The singers for the other main roles are …

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Bayreuth Festival Retrospective, 2011

This year the Bayreuth Festival produced five different operas, opening with a new production of Tannhäuser, followed by four revivals: Meistersinger, Lohengrin, Parsifal, and Tristan, in that order.  I went to the first four, which included Katarina Wagner’s grotesque Meistersinger for which spare tickets were selling at half price, and no wonder. With a weak …

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Meistersinger, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

Tickets for Bayreuth are hard to come by, so you know something’s wrong when people are disposing of Meistersinger at half price outside the theatre.

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Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

The imagery is enormous, but the production concept is simple. It’s the history of Germany from before the First World War until after the Second.

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Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

The video projections of rats fighting and metaphorically trying to take over the kingdom were clever, and I loved the opening of Act II with a dead horse and overturned carriage.

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Siegfried, Longborough Festival Opera, July 2011

… here at Longborough I wouldn’t have wanted Act I to last a minute less, because Daniel Brenna and Colin Judson were riveting as Siegfried and Mime.

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne, May 2011

This new production of Meistersinger by David McVicar elicited thunderous applause at the end. And what an end it was, with Hans Sachs’s monologue being given its full force in a way I’ve not seen before. When Walther refuses the award of Mastership from Pogner, Gerald Finley as Sachs draws him aside to stage right, and his …

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Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, May 2011

The second act of Walküre is the axis about which the whole Ring turns, and I’ll restrict my remarks mainly to that part. In the first Ring opera, Rheingold, Wotan is persuaded to give up the mighty ring that he stole from Alberich. This is when the earth goddess Erda appears from the depths warning him to Flieh’ des …

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Parsifal, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2011

Easter comes late this year but Parsifal is early, and stepping into the warmth of the London Coliseum from a washed-out winter’s day was a treat. As the first bars came out of the orchestra, Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting showed the clarity and quality Wagner’s music demands, and sent tingles down my spine.

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Die Walküre, La Scala, Milan, December 2010

… here we had a young and glorious Brünnhilde in Nina Stemme.

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Tannhäuser, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, December 2010

Tannhäuser himself was boldly and strongly sung by Johan Botha, whose ample frame suits the role of one who has taken his fill of earthly delights.

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Das Rheingold, Metropolitan Opera live relay, October 2010

One cannot help feeling sympathy with Alberich as he cries out, “O Schmerz!” (What pain!), and Eric Owens sang and acted the role brilliantly. His dark, rich voice expressed his anguish and determination, …

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Stephen Fry: Wagner and Me, cinema screening, September 2010

“You stand waiting hours for a Valkyrie and then they all come at once”. So quips Stephen Fry in a studio at Bayreuth with four Valkyries in rehearsal. Bayreuth is the small town in Bavaria where Wagner built his own opera house, and in this delightful documentary we learn how he acquired the money for …

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Prom 66, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, 4 September 2010

“Mahler’s 11th Symphony”, Rattle called the second half of this concert as he introduced it, requesting the audience not to interrupt with applause until all three works were over.

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Tristan und Isolde, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Festival Hall, September 2010

Esa-Pekka Salonen produced glorious sounds from the Philharmonia, giving us moments of explosive tension and of gentle lyricism.

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Die Walküre, Longborough Festival Opera, July 2010

… indeed the whole cast came over with supercharged energy, giving us a Walküre to treasure in anticipation of its reappearance in a full Ring during Wagner’s bi-centenary year.

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Die Meistersinger, in concert at the Proms, 17 July 2010

…Terfel gave a wonderfully nuanced performance. He built up gradually through Acts I and II, and in Act III his Wahn monologue was beautifully done, and he ended very strongly with his Verachtet mir die Meister nicht . . .

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

Rossini’s comment that, “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour” was spoken before Die Meistersinger was created, and this opera has, for me, not a dull moment — it’s one glorious thing after another. Of course a determined director can spoil it, as happened at Bayreuth this past summer in Katharina Wagner’s diabolical production, …

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Tannhäuser, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

… what really made the evening was Stephen Gould’s Tannhäuser. He was forceful and articulate with a superb tone and strong stage presence. This is the sort of singer one wants as Tristan or Siegfried — Covent Garden please note.

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Der fliegende Holländer, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

I’m afraid Tatjana Gürbaca was not up to the job. She was probably more concerned with her own strange concept, in which the men were shown as financial traders, and the women as performers and party girls.

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Rienzi, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

In the second part … it all came together. The amateurish rise to power of the clown-like Rienzi is over. Here he is shown in his bunker on the ground level of the stage, with the people on the street level above.

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Lohengrin, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

Friedrich’s excellent staging is well supported by the performers, particularly Waltraud Meier, who plays the evil Ortrud with subtle malice, and Eike Wilm Schulte, who portrays a fiercely tendentious Telramund with a commanding voice — this nasty pair both exhibit great stage presence.

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Wagner Week at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, February 2010

I shall be in Berlin for a week of Wagner operas at the Deutsche Oper: Lohengrin, Rienzi, Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Meistersinger.

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Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera, October 2009

The orchestra performed with distinction under Antonio Pappano, and the Opera House had put together a superb cast, led by Nina Stemme as Isolde. She was terrific throughout, and in the Liebestod she rose effortlessly above the orchestra

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Tristan und Isolde, Glyndebourne, August 2009

This was Glyndebourne’s 2003 production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff,…[and] it works terrifically well, with a set by Roland Aeschlimann featuring a broken vortex of huge curved girders.

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The Ring, Maryinsky Opera, London, July/August 2009

Valery Gergiev unfolded the music beautifully … never rushing, but never flagging

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bayreuther Festspiele, July 2009

…this year’s production of Meistersinger was apparently even more ludicrous that last year’s.

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Tristan und Isolde, Bayreuther Festspiele, July 2009

On this first night of the 2009 Bayreuth festival, under the new direction of Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, we had the singers for the parts, but not the parts for the singers in this wretched production.

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