NWR Opera and classical concert notes

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Po-yu Sung, Apr 1, 2017.

  1. I feel that there are probably enough forumites going to opera and classical concerts to support a separate thread, so here it is.

    Let me start with tonight's Die Meistersinger in ROH:


    K. Holten's new production received mixed comments. I personally think it works partially; at least it is not ugly: most of time it's viewable. (Unlike the awful Turandot, yes, you will see that again soon)
    It is becoming a common fashion at least in europe that directors simply ignore composers' instructions for the sake of it. Covent garden is not at the frontier of this fashion but it is still part of Europe (sorry, it is until this island moves near Africa); ROH often try to push a little bit without costing too much money.... occasionally it's dreadful, but this Meistersinger is partially OK.

    First the good parts; I quite like the midsummer night dream scene at the end of Act 2 (as photo). It's a colourfully good idea. When I was a little bit uncertain why they need to have those rear-entry position couples on the stage (again, see the photo), the beautiful voice nachtwächter (custom as Pan, sung by David Shipley) really touched me.
    The second good part is the stage setting of the scene 2 of Act 3. I think it manages to fit everyone in a limited stage space without looking messy.
    Not much to talk about for the first part of Act 2 and Act 3.

    The bad part; an awkward ending of the whole opera. In Holten's setting of Act 1, the meeting of Masters becomes a black tie event where ladies have to go to another room when men handling things. Actually, the marriage of Eva was decided first by her father and then many other men.... Holten probably wanted to talk a little bit about this but we didn't see it emphasised or delivered until the puzzling ending.
    In the ending, Eva suddenly gets upset about her lover, but you don't get why she's upset. If she has to behave like a 13, then the equally childish Walther should pair her well.
    And Hans Sachs suddenly becomes an active nationalist. But that was not written in the lines; I am not saying Wanger did not have his German supremacy agenda, but if you listen to and read 'Wahn, wahn, überall wahn', Hans Sachs is not at all a mean anti-immigrants old country man. Actually, this monolog especially ring true nowadays and you can say it goes against populism. The way Holten design the ending has no base in how Wagner wrote it; the whole Die Meistersinger is surrounding Hans Sachs, a wise man, but still a human beings with all sorts emtions from interaction with people; thus the ending shocked the audience, not by the boldness of the idea, but by how the personality change of key person comes from nowhere. It is rather sad that this happens at the very end of the opera therefore gives an unsatisfactory feeling for us to bring home.

    Another unsatisfaction tonight was the suddenly withdraw of Bryn Trefel for the final scene. His voice was cracking and sometimes sounded like yelling in Act 3 scene 1; while he still kept his pitch and volume, and he kept the quientet well. By scene2, the Sachs receiving 'wacht auf' was not him anymore. Trefel was singing Wotan and Hollander here and there, but he only picked up Hans Sachs around 6 years ago with WNO. I went to Cardiff to listen to him. Regardless of his German pronounciation, his voice and performance gave the usually too smart Hans Sachs some roughness, which is good, in the end Hans Sachs is a shoemaker. On the other side of it, he does not have the delicacy of tones which the music inconsequently requires. Nevertheless, his voice is big and warm, can dominate the scene and pleasant to hear, which his substitute tonight unfortunately can not do.
    From the first time he sang this role in Cardiff, his voice sounded in stress in Act 3. I think Hans Sachs is a bit too high for his voice range, and Act 3 is a killer. He sounded like yelling in the end. In that year, WNO brought the whole set to BBC proms, again I was there standing for 5 hours. RAH is an even bigger hall, and he simply lower an octave for that killing high note at his final statement. Years passed, I think his voice is only getting older. Saying that, I appreciate how he acts with his voice.

    Another Welsh, tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, did a decent job to deliver a young and angry Walther. I have no complain because I know how often we have bad Walther even in CDs. Eva act like a physically over grown 13 years old, but I don't know if that's how the director wants. David and Magdalene did a great job; Beckmesser was a true voice actor and although I usually disagree the attempt to ridiculous this role, I think his acting was brilliant.

    ROH orchestra always play very well for Papano. I am not a big fan for Papano's Wagner after listening his Tristan: orchestra played perfectly for him, but it doesn't sound right at all.... Tristan is not Don Carlo! For me he has a bit issue about the orchestral part of Wagner works, or actually any German opera.... Anyway, Meistersinger is not Tristan, so it can work in a sense that he successfully put the emssemble together and faithfully support the story (in Tristan's case, music itself has to flow on its own logic even without the story), therefore, the least impressive parts of his conducting were the two great orchestral pieces: Act 1 and Act 3 prelude.

    It is always a pleasure to see Wagner or R. Strauss live in opera house. I do hope I can have more chances i the future, here or in other cities.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2017
  2. I agree that it's odd that stage directions are regarded as optional. They are of course in many cases including Wagner's impractical to the point of being unrealisable but the idea that the whole thing be constantly reinterpreted is preposterous and always has been, there's already infinite freedom in putting on the thing as it is stipulated in just the same way as the realisation of the music demands.
    Po, when put like this it seems to me that it simply doesn't sound the way you are expecting it to sound, which seems very subjective indeed. Nothing wrong with that of course, but if you don't put 'to me' at the end then you need to be more specific.
    This is not addressed to you but to anyone who might read this-recordings and even tradition(except insofar as it applies to notational convention) have nothing whatever to do with how a performance of classical music takes shape. It is all about the performer's relationship with the score and their determination to realise it as faithfully as it can be done, while of course remembering that above all composers want their music to sound good.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2017
    Po-yu Sung likes this.
  3. Tom, there is a "for me" just several words after. I tend not to repeat "for me" too many times in a short paragraph, just my habit, sorry if it doesnt look clear. And his Tristan was not "not as expected" for me, it‘s "unexpectedly lacking inward music momentum, but with superficial drama expression", for me. For me, he was not doing something new, he was doing something he‘s used to do but unfortunately doesn‘t work for Wagner, for me.

    At the same time, I agree it‘s a debatable topic that if classical music playing, including opera singing, should have a style paradigm. Actually, that‘s exactly one topic Die Meistersinger is talking about.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2017
    Antoine Singer and Thom Blach like this.
  4. Po-Yu,
    I was also at the ROH (I can't recognise you as I don't know you) and we also had a great time.
    Your review is excellent.
    Being much less of a connoisseur as you are, I was shocked/scared by the Nationalist end... and did not know this was not what Wagner meant, so scary...
    Otherwise, really enjoyed this opera as it is less dramatic than his other operas and really very creative. Some really beautiful music. And I share your other comments. Can only add I found the orchestra started a bit awkward in the intro but quickly warmed up.
    Beautiful music, great time.
    Po-yu Sung likes this.
  5. We were also there this last Saturday. Very much enjoyed the music, and the singers were on form (Bryn fortunately was in full voice). The staging was a real let-down, and I preferred the version I saw in 2012 over this. Though to be honest if I want staging I like Vienna is the place.

    I think care should be taken when interpreting Wagner's political sensibility, as per some guidance in the programme notes. One of his great strengths is that so many different political views have found their home, or nemesis in Wagner, which really suggests his art is very dense, multilayered and complex (as all great art is) and open to many different interpretations. Though direct readings of the libretto (particularly in the final parts of the last act) could lead to a simple reading of nationalism, when read against the whole backdrop of the opera, and his context, many different ways of readings of it emerge.

    Anyhow, I don't want to start a discussion, more to suggest caution.

    One of the interesting reflections we had afterwards was that as this is the artistic directors outgoing production he did set the staging up in a way that could be interpreted as giving two fingers to those backward elite who see tradition in a constraining narrow way, and two fingers to the audience who just follow the crowd, are easy to please, and are essentially debauched (hence the rather lewd end to act 1), with himself playing the pure heroine who struts off stage at the end wishing to escape it all. Just a thought.
    Po-yu Sung likes this.

  6. Oh I love this Jane Austen style of custom. Not many recent ROH productions has this elegancy. Finley has the tone and "bite" but apparently he has smaller voice than Trefel... well, its life.

    p.s. Gareth I think you give an interesting point of view. Holten suggested that there's a sexism issue in this opera in his interview, and apparently he wanted to put 'girl's resistance' somewhere. Just I was not convinced, actually I was confused by how he ends this production. Maybe I am too traditional.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2017
  7. There was a NWR: Opera thread in the old forum. Thanks for setting this up Po-yu.

    Just in case some of us are unaware The EU funded Opera Platform has some superb productions available for streaming.

    A few days after the live show subtitles in a few languages are installed.

    The Opera Platform

    Available now are:

    Goplana by Władysław Żeleński from Polish National Opera >>
    La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini from Teatro Regio Torino >>
    La Cenerentola by Gioachino Rossini from Opéra de Lille >>
    La Troupe d'Orphée by Marc-Antoine Charpentier from OPERA2DAY >>
    Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini from La Monnaie >>
    Orpheus by Claudio Monteverdi and Elena Kats-Chernin from Komische Oper Berlin >>
    Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith from Opéra de Lyon >>
    Space Opera by Aleksander Nowak from Poznań Opera >>
    The Golden Cockerel by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov from La Monnaie Brussels >>
    The Nose by Dimitry Shostakovich from Royal Opera House >>
    The Pearls of Cleopatra by Oscar Straus from Komische Oper Berlin >>
    The Stigmatised by Franz Schreker from Opéra de Lyon >>
    Von Heute auf Morgen by Arnold Schoenberg from Opéra de Lyon >>

    You can pause and rewatch whenever you like.
    Po-yu Sung and Gareth Powell like this.

  8. Just learned that Kurt Moll, a great German bass, has passed away earlier last month.
    I was just thinking about when I listened to him in Munich for Die Meistersinger (he sang Pogner) .... an unforgetable experience for a young college student.
    Warren EDWARDES likes this.
  9. Opera for Good Friday
    bob parsons and Warren EDWARDES like this.
  10. Well, I won't listen, Po-Yu, but Parsifal is overwhelming, and possibly the most perverse and decadent expression of the transcendental contradictions of mankind's religious nature that exists. It is pure art in its highest form, which is more than a little uncomfortable.
    Warren EDWARDES and Po-yu Sung like this.
  11. Fantastic semi-staging of Return of Ulysses last night in Bristol, first UK performance in the John Eliot Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra world tour to celebrate the composer's 450th. Really gripping drama, wonderful on every level. If you can see this or any of the operas as they tour, do so!

    A friend pointed out that, while they're doing the Edinburgh Festival, they're not currently scheduled in London. Is there a chance they'll be unveiled as one of the main features of the forthcoming Proms season?
    Po-yu Sung likes this.
  12. I just finished listening Act 3 of Karajan's 80s version at 1:30am... indeed overwhelmed. Maybe uncomfortable, but I need it from time to time, and indeed at least once a year, like revisiting holy grail....
    Well, this weekend I probably should also revisit the other highest form of art for me, Bach's two Passions.
  13. I hope so, just got facebook notification that the proms list will be published in a week! Can't wait to queue all afternoon and stand all evening again!
    Ken Oliver likes this.
  14. I too will give Parsifal a miss this weekend. I have never attended a public performance and it is some years since I listened to it in full on record (the Karajan version, I think). Although it contains some of Wagner's most beautiful music, I'm not very comfortable with him in a religious mode. I feel that Tristan & Isolde is the opera which best fits with his multi-faceted personality.

    As it happens I am at present reading a biography of Elgar by Jerrold Northrop Moore and have reached the part dealing with his difficult gestation of The Apostles. It seems a good opportunity to listen to this work for the first time in its entirety.
    Po-yu Sung likes this.
  15. yes, I'm thinking of going to Bach's St John Passion at the Barbican this evening.
  16. You might go? I invited my friend but he dislikes Britten Sinfonia (I don't know about them).... so I am thinking about it still.... For me it's more about a chance to sit there listening to it all way through, like a purification process (sorry sounds a bit low) as long as the performance is reasonable...
  17. That is a proposition which is worth some thought. Although the two operas are built of more entirely different material than most composers could ever create they are nevertheless made in rather the same way, and it is in the eroticisation of the devotional that the genuine decadence of Parsifal is found. Two sides of exactly the same coin, I would contend, though Tristan is the far more innocent work and it is not innocent at all.
    Charles Muttar likes this.
  18. If we say music works are often the projections of the composers at the moment... (Not sure if it applies to Mozart, his works often seem unrelated to what he's going through) I feel the longing (desire?) element in Tristan more, which often made me melancholy after listening to it, if not depressed. Tristan often reminds me how life is dissatisfatorily 'don't get what you want, or got it then lost it'. In Parsifal, Wagner probably already found his own solution for his earlier trouble (or simply because he was old then).

    I am a Buddhist and not at all from Christian cultural background. I wouldn't say Parsifal is exactly Buddhist, nor I believe Buddhism is more asceticist than Christianity, but I kind of found resonance in Parsifal, not just from the story but also from its music, which gave me a purified feeling.

    So responding to your 'opposite to mankind's religion' point, I guess it depends on what did you mean for religion.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2017
  19. Harmonically the quintessentially diatonic language of Parsifal versus the ultimate chromaticism of Tristan expresses what you are saying very precisely, Po-Yu.
    Po-yu Sung likes this.
  20. I believe so, though I've never learned harmony theory. It's written as how we feel it.
  21. It's written to make us feel it!
  22. It should be... :rolleyes:
  23. I won't comment on the Christian side of Parsifal, but for me Wagner is the music before anything. And that music has the capacity to tear you open.

    If you can't listen to Parsifal then just listen to the Prelude.

    I struggle with Wagner the man, but the music is sublime in a very particular way. But it's odd that I have lived for over 30 years with someone who doesn't like/"get" Wagner.

    I wouldn't have Wagner at my funeral, but I could die to his music.
  24. Maybe you should head to Ravello for the (Wagner inspired) music festival David?
    David Crossley likes this.

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