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Jonas Kaufmann

Friday, October 21, 2016

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

October 14

A quartet with only one player left standing

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discOur weekly bulletin from Anthea Kreston of the award-winning Artemis Quartet: We have had a week of illness – first me, then our first violinist was ordered to stay in bed for the week) and now our violist (standing next to me, waiting for security at the airport). Most immediate family members are down as well. A week of cancelled rehearsals buttress the Echo Awards (European Grammys) and performances. A member falls into a desperate, heavy sleep during intermission of our concert, to be gently shaken awake for the second half of the program. The last to fall (or not to fall) is our cellist, who has surrounded himself with ginger tea. In the thick of all this – a behind-the-scene look at the glamorous and magical Echo Awards – from my first red carpet walk to rubbing elbows with classical music’s elite. Pre-show, abundant emails and detail-checking set my expectations high – this was going to be a spectacle – visually, musically, and star-studded. Because of security, we were asked to arrive first one hour, then an hour and a half early, with official identification. A car was sent to my apartment 2 hours before we were to be seated, and my sister, visiting from Berkeley, accompanied me as my plus-one. She came prepared – floor-length black gown with jewelled turquoise straps crisscrossing the just-appropriately low back of the dress. I wore my latest dress – a purple straight lined floor-length dress, covered in teeny glittering beads, and a diamond cut-out in the back. As we giggled in the back of the car, wondering out loud if we were going to have an “entrance” from the car, we rounded the corner to see a magnificently lit Konzerthaus at the Gendarmenmarkt. As we approached the drop-off, we quickly realized that a push of reporters was indeed filming and taking pictures as people were helped from the car. We removed our coats – my sister held mine as I exited the car, doing my best to mimic those countless videos we have all seen of the glamorous limo exits. Red carpet spanned the Lincoln-memorial-sized stairs, and snaked its way through the press photo-tent, television interview area, and along throngs (can this even be possible) of die-hard classical music fans, waiting to glimpse their favorite classical music star. As we exited security, we were ushered aside by our ever-fabulous Publicist, Maren Borchers of “For Artists”. In a straight black woolen coat, cut at an angle, a purple feathered boa, and an ear piece connected to on-and back-stage, she orchestrated her artists, first sending one and then another ahead to the carpet. She sometimes repeated a snippet here or there “lost wardrobe, trouble with moving camera above stage, drink areas ready to go…..”. As all four Artemis arrived, their plus-ones gathered as well, and were ushered around to a side carpet, to reconvene with us later. First we strolled to the photo area, where a blizzard of flashes came from the wall of photographers – first one, then the other grabbed our attention, calling for us to look their way next. Then, to the corner where the TV reporter asked specific questions as to our award and repertoire represented on the CD. It is at this point that I must say that this award belongs not even a hair to me – this was an award for a glorious cd of Brahms released by the Artemis. It belongs to Vineta, Gregor, Friedemann and Eckart. Nonetheless, they included me in these festivities, toasting to the next Echo – for the four of us. As we entered the already-packed building, in which the rectangular hall is surrounded by wide, marble hallways, we were greeted by musicians, managers, record companies, and a seemingly endless line of crisply-dressed wait-staff, holding everything from molecular-gastronomy smoking test-tubes filled with neon-green delicious substances to traditional hearty German food, albeit in amuse-bouche form. Also making the rounds was an updated form of the cigarette girl – with the same tray and neck-ribbon, but in her tray, a dizzying array of top-tier chocolates. Oh my. I took three. As quartet fanned out, each person looking for any number of people with whom Quartet has had business, is in negotiation for business, or wishes to begin a new venture, I again saw these people in their finest – able to talk with anyone on any subject – charming, succinct, creative. I met our manager, the inimitable Sonia Simmenauer, our photo-makeup artist, a reporter in the midst of writing a large article about the quartet. We were ushered into the hall – a large rectangle with velvet chairs, and a full two balconies. I felt like I was in one of those period books – looking around at those in the boxes, trying to recognize the stars. The ceiling was covered in many large, matching chandeliers, camera people roamed the aisles, and a large camera on a pulley spanned the entire hall. We were seated close to the front, where winners were placed to facilitate easy access to the stage. The moderator, Thomas Gottschalk, (their version of Letterman) was charming and witty as he lead us through the basics – allowing us three different dynamics of clapping, and even singling out specific audience members with a funny comment here or there. The next three hours were filled with dazzling performances (unfortunately Jonas Kaufmann – be still my fluttering heart – was unable to sing due to recent health issues – but he spoke and I got to see his dimple from a distance of inches!), from vocal to instrumental to orchestral. I had never heard Philippe Jaroussky before, and I was floored by his rendition of Handel. After his performance, my sister and I turned to each other and said “what the **** was that” – we were without words. Guest speakers from Cold Play’s Chris Martin to author Donna Leon rounded out the show. As we were called to the stage, each of us immediately assuming a larger-than-life persona, I was again struck by the strength of this group. Through thick and thin, they rise and meet the day with hand outstretched, ready to tackle any problem and grateful for the support given them. My sister and I returned home, heads to pillows around 2 am. The after party, with its amazing array of foods and drinks, was like being in a Top Chef episode. A full 11 hour extravaganza – and I couldn’t for the life of me get a wink of sleep.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

October 10

Label war: Sony rush out Perahia tracks to challenge DG’s coup

After Sony snatched Jonas Kaufmann from Decca last year, he was outraged when his former label pushed out his old Puccini tracks to play against Sony’s Nessun Dorma release. There was even talk of legal action. Now, weeks after DG captured Murray Perahia from Sony with a set of Bach suites, his former label has issued a spoiler compilation. Small boys in playgrounds?

Classical iconoclast

October 9

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Bayerische Staatsoper Munich

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich:  so dark and disturbing that it makes uncomfortable viewing. But truly great works of art operate on many levels, the greater the piece the greater the possibilities.  It is a measure of Wagner's greatness that the ideas he dealt with nearly 150 years ago apply, almost frighteningly,  to the present.  This Meistersinger provokes more questions than it gives answers, exactly what we need at the present when assumptions about art, politics and society are in unprecedented flux. Who are the Meistersingers? Wagner makes a point of describing them as distinct individuals, with different backgrounds, united more or less by their love for art.  All of them have other day jobs: art is something they choose to place their faith in.  Although Hans Sachs and Sixtus Beckmesser dominate, it is wise to consider the Meistersingers as a group of personalities resolving the inevitable conflicts of diversity through compromise.  Rules help them muddle through by providing a kind of framework in which to regulate their art. But the rules are, in fact, made up ad hoc.  Beckmesser is so obessesed with finding fault that he runs out of space on his marking slate.  He works himself into crazed frenzy. Reality is never quite so extreme.  Yet the Meistersingers, supposedly wise representatives of common sense, get caught up in Beckmesser's hysteria and hate.  How easily civilized society can disintegrate when demagogues take control! Were it not for Hans Sachs and the voice of reason, Walter von Stoltzing, and what he stands for, would have been driven out of Nuremberg forthwith. How easily society descends into mindless, repression and group think.  What kind of society cannot cope with change and must suppress new ideas? The Meistersingers here are depicted as ordinary men, to whose credit have worked hard to make something of their craft. Ordinary men, who've meant well. They think they're in control, but are easily manipulated into forgetting the very fundamentals of art, that art should enhance life, and must, like Nature itself, constantly refresh. Hence the urban landscape.  Walter learned his art from the birds in the woodland, who are free. Birds don't survive in these grim conditions.  As Wagner clearly stated in his stage directions, angles in the Church are distorted. Something's askew. Eva (Emma Bell) participates in formulaic rituals but recognizes Walter (Robert Künzli) as a fellow free spirit right from the start.  The apprentices, being young, are also still untamed, but how is their energy directed.  Just as each of the Meistersingers is defined as a distinctive personality, this David (Benjamin Bruns) isn't a stereotype but a well-characterized combination of worthiness and weakness, not a youth but not yet an artist until the end. In the First Act, the staging sets the personalities. In the Second, the staging focuses on the community. Sachs (Wolfgang Koch) operates out of a van marked "Schuhe".  It reminds us that Sachs is out in the open, in the night air. Is he a Wanderer, who sees all yet can't easily intervene?  There's no tree in this square, but a cherry picker crane that can be cranked up and down if needed, a stage idea that's more effective than it looks. Beckmesser can reach great heights, but by artificial means, reflecting the idea of an elder tree and its connotations of delusion. The citizens of this Nuremberg live in anonymous housing blocks, as we'd see in any desolate city where conditions are hard, and expectations are limited.  These are the universal disenfranchised, the kind of people whose horizons are curtailed, and who make easy prey for populist demagogues that make them feel they are "taking control" when they are, in reality, being manipulated.   Given the events of 2016, and the rise of Pegida and other right-wing extremists, it would be easy to make connections with 1933, but David Bösch, the director, deliberately avoids easy answers. He makes us feel sympathy for these dislocated souls, despite the violence with which they express themselves. To counteract such evil we need to understand and analyze, though not condone. Thus Beckmesser gets beaten up, and savagely. Nothing scenic about this brutality. The Nightwatchman (Goran Jurić) is an ordinary German policeman, a symbol of order, but one who cannot reverse the insanity once it's been released. The mob bully him back into his squad car. They wield poles, like knights n the past would have wielded spears : the romance of the past revealed as petty crime. Similarly, this Beckmesser (Martin Gantner) isn't a caricature, but is interpreted as a weak but opportunistic personality who assumes that playing the right games gets you ahead.  He's very nearly right. Were it not for Sachs, his gold lamé suit and string vest might make him a superstar in some eyes, though his instrument is minute.  Walter, in leathers, looks like a thug but is the true artist, rough edges and all.  David could go either way, meaning well but prone to fudging corners.   Wolfgang Koch's Sachs impressed: although he's grimy (as the real Sachs probably was), intelligence shines out of his eyes. His movements are sharp and he takes in all that's happening around him, as a good Sachs should.  Koch is so experienced that authoritative singing comes naturally to him: no need for exaggerated folksiness.  His "Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!" sounded genuinely perplexed, as if he were trying to make sense of what's going wrong, rather than just sighing in despair.  As he sang, his voice warmed with resolve.  Sachs can, and will, stand up for reason. No open meadows in the final scene. Perhaps the Pegnitz no longer flows, or has been diverted underground.  We still see flags but these are flags of a more sinister kind. We're indoors, in a closed auditorium, cut off from the real world. On a hot Johannisnacht, the atmosphere would be stifling. And so, perhaps, a commentary on the nature of guilds and competition, of the channeling of diversity into an apparently cohesive celebration. "Brought to you by Pogner", a sign declares, for Pogner (Georg Zeppenfeld) was the agent who created the situation through which Eva was auctioned off to the highest bidder, bringing out the worst in Beckmesser, who might not otherwise have dared  to move. Pogner's white suit isn't as pure as it might seem.  The mob in the square covered the city walls in graffiti. Here, the "promoters" cover the meadow with commercial slogans.  Either way, defacement, and the defacement of culture as sacred mission. The guilds come together in a show of  unity, but how much of this unity is real, and how much controlled by convention. Each guild flaunts its superiority. Listen to the music: "Streck'! Streck'! Streck'!" and "Beck! Beck! Beck!", violence channelled into ostensibly cheerful chorus. The Tailors hold up the tools of their trade: giant scissors which could cut a man in two, stained with blood.  In some shots the blades of the scissors appear above the tailor's heads as if they were the horns of the devil.  The Prize scene is a Prize Fight, but the wider scene suggests a kind of Party Rally, with the crowds cheering as if on cue. Alas, Nuremberg has yet to live down 1936, even though not all the good folk of the city were participants. But at least the memory serves to remind us how dangerous Party Rallies can be, when people can be manipulated into unthinking frenzy and violence. Even decent, ordinary people who let themselves be fooled by soundbites.  No wonder Walter doesn't want more of the same.  Beckmesser gets beaten yet again, and brutally.  Fortunately, though, Walter does win, and wins Eva, the two of them offering hope by renewal.  What Walter will learn from Sachs will determine the direction of Holy German Art. How much have audiences learned from Wagner, and from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, though, I wonder ?  In the dark clouds gathering around us in 2016, have we learned  anything from history?  Can art save civilization? Or is human nature so venal that the ideals of enlightenment must be destroyed in a wave of ever-narrowing bigotry and the resurgence of fascist values?  In this production, the bust of Wagner comes in a box marked "fragile".  Fortunately in Munich, the cheers were louder than the boos, a cause for hope.  Kirill Petrenko conducted a very good cast even without a megastar like Jonas Kaufmann.  For that, I was glad, for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.   This production, directed by David Bösch, is finely detailed and will probably reveal its depths as time goes on. It's different, but its insights come from the opera itself.  It's not easy. But the issues it confronts are not easy and need to be confronted with courage and with Hans Sachs's fair minded common sense.  

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

October 7

No refund for Jonas Kaufmann fans

Parisians paid 25 percent above normal ticket prices to see Jonas Kaufmann in Tales of Hoffmann next month. He cancelled . So here’s the deal. Instead of offering a refund, the Paris Opéra is telling subscribers it still expects to see them at Tales of Hoffmann – now with Ramon Vargas – but will also offer them free tickets to another opera or ballet of their choice. Good deal? It’s only on offer to subscribers. Single-ticket holders have not been contacted. Here’s the letter: Cher abonné, Vous avez été informé récemment de l’impossibilité pour Monsieur Jonas Kaufmann de débuter dans le rôle d’Hoffmann dans Les Contes d’Hoffmann en novembre prochain à l’Opéra national de Paris. Monsieur Jonas Kaufmann a expliqué dans un courrier adressé aux spectateurs de nos théâtres et publié sur notre site Internet, les raisons de santé majeures qui l’obligent malheureusement à annuler sa participation à ce spectacle très attendu par tous. Dans ce moment difficile, je lui souhaite un prompt rétablissement en espérant l’accueillir très vite sur nos scènes. Je tiens aussi à remercier chaleureusement Monsieur Ramón Vargas qui interprétera le rôle d’Hoffmann du 3 au 18 novembre, en accord avec le Metropolitan Opera de New-York. Grâce à son engagement et à l’ensemble de la distribution qui l’entourera, dirigée par le maestro Philippe Jordan, notre directeur musical, vous assisterez à un très beau spectacle, dans la mise en scène de Monsieur Robert Carsen. Toutefois, pour atténuer la déception que vous pouvez ressentir après la nouvelle de l’annulation de Monsieur Kaufmann, et parce que vous êtes un abonné fidèle de l’Opéra national de Paris, je souhaite vous inviter sur une représentation de votre choix parmi 10 spectacles de la saison 2016-2017 (8 opéras et 2 ballets) : – Lucia di Lammermoor (à l’Opéra Bastille, à partir du 14 octobre) – Cavalleria Rusticana / Sancta Susanna (au Palais Garnier, à partir du 30 novembre) – Iphigénie en Tauride (à l’Opéra Bastille, à partir du 2 décembre) – La Flûte Enchantée (à l’Opéra Bastille, à partir du 23 janvier) – Trompe-la-mort (au Palais Garnier, à partir du 16 mars) – Wozzeck (à l’Opéra Bastille, à partir du 26 avril) – Rigoletto (à l’Opéra Bastille, à partir du 27 mai) – Carmen (à l’Opéra Bastille, à partir du 13 juin) – Jirí Kylian (au Palais Garnier, à partir du 29 novembre) – Drumming Live (à l’Opéra Bastille, à partir du 1er juillet) Je vous invite à réserver gratuitement dès à présent le spectacle de votre choix, en contactant un conseiller au 01 73 60 26 26. Vous pourrez obtenir le même nombre de billets, dans la même catégorie, que ceux que vous avez acquis pour Les Contes d’Hoffmann auquel, naturellement, vous assisterez. Je souhaite, par cette invitation, vous remercier à nouveau très chaleureusement pour votre fidélité à l’Opéra de Paris. Je vous prie de croire, cher abonné, en l’expression de ma meilleure considération. Stéphane Lissner

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