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Jonas Kaufmann

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Classical iconoclast

May 22

Interpreting Meistersinger : Glyndebourne, Munich

Classical iconoclast Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Glyndebourne. Is it unusual to start a new season with a revival ?  This production premiered on the exact date on which Wagner was born 200 years before.  Fortuitous timing, perhaps, but also a bright start to the 2011 season.  "Sunny but not shallow" I wrote at the time - read my original piece HERE .  David McVicar set the production around the time if Wagner's birth, which was appropriate in the composer's anniversary year, but rather less relevant now.  On the plus side, early 19th century designs are easy on the eye.  Perhaps the popularity of this production stems from it being so genteel and non-challenging. But Die Meistersinger isn't about pretty scenery. On the contrary. It says, quite clearly that appearances deceive. The good guy is not the one in the smart black suit. . s message is that appearances deceieve. The good guy isn't the one with the smart suit.  On the minus side, it gentrified 16th century Nuremburg,  obliterating the context of Reformation and revolt.  It didn't matter so much in 2011 because we were celebrating the start of the season, the production was fresh and it was different. Gerald Finley was a sophisticate, rather than earthy. Because he's a house favourite, it's perfectly reasonable to build a production around him.  There isn't and shouldn't be a "Hans Sachs type" but Finley's voice is on the genteel side, so his Sachs was never going to be gritty or pugnacious.  Hence his Sachs was an Early Romantic poet, from a time when poets were intellectuals, often aristocratic, almost all middle class.  They'd no more make a living fixing shoes than might a hero from Jane Austen.  True, the Romantic period was a revolution, but the revolution Wagner wrought transformed the music of the past, even if it grew from Romantic values.  I enjoyed the 2011 premiere because Vladimir Jurowski conducted exceptionally well. The orchestra communicated what the set avoided.  There's no reason why Die Meistersinger shouldn't be sunny and gay, in the old sense of the word, because the Nuremburgers are celebrating the survival of their city and the renewal,of art.  There is more in the opera, though.  The Meistersingers were happy enough to do as Beckmesser wanted and run Walter out of town, had Sachs not intervened.  Not for nothing, when darkness falls, the townsfolk s crap. It's comic but not funny. A crowd can descend into a mob. The Night Watchman is a counterpart to Sachs, restoring sanity.   And so to  Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from the Bayerisches Staatsoper in Munich, just down nthe road from Bayreuth and not far from Nuremburg. Presumably the locals have Die Meistersinger inn their DNA, notwithstanding their ancestors' less than worshipful approach to Wagner himself.  Even if they don't, the opera is so familiar that it could be interpreted in a new way, yet still true to the fundamentals.  Jonas Kaufmann is Munich's greatest asset, and even more popular than Finley is at Glyndebourne. I''m glad I listened to the premiere audio only, in order to get the musical,logic behind the interpretation.  Kaufmann is simply head and shoulders above everyone else in the cast, though they are good, and probably better than the Glyndebourne cast.  He's just so good that he changes the balance of the opera.  Jacques Imbrailo did the same with the Glyndeboure  Billy Budd, singing so divinely that some forget that for Britten, the story actually revolves around Captain Vere's moral dilemma.  It's fine to adjust balances in this way because they allow a change of perspective.  Kaufmann's Walter was so good that no one could have mistaken him for an untrained newcomer.  The birds in the woods who taught Kaufmann's Walter must have been pretty amazing.  An interpretation placing more emphasis on Walter than on Sachs would be perfectly valid, if done well, because walter is the future, as Sachs recognizes.   Sachs was named after St John the Baptist, who laid the way for Jesus.  Johannisnacht is a Christian festival, but also has connections with prehistory and even the occult.  The tree in the town square, for example is a kind of fertility symbol, and young folk go courting at the fair.  "Holy German Art" was poisoned by Hitler, but it's not actually about nazism.  The music isn't even demonic, just affirmative, so,playing it up for cheap,thrills is a ciop out.  It's time to exorcise that ghost from the opera and from its interpretation. . Holy German Art in Hans Sachs' time was an affirmation of native German values, as opposed to the Catholic Church, to the democratization of learning through the printed word.  Before Gutenberg, people didn't have books, and had to believe what they were told.   The real message of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg  is a lot more radical,than some realize.  Please alsomread Mills and Boon Wagner -Meistersinger at the Met  and  Stefan Herheim's perceptive Meistersinger, Salzburg and ENO Vindicated : Wagner's prescient warning. 

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

Yesterday

Sony signs someone

It has been a very long time since Sony Classical have added a new artist. It’s so long ago, the last one might have been Jonas Kaufmann. But never say never at Sony. Yesterday they brought out the fountain pen for the London-based German baritone Benjamin Appl, a member of the BBC New Generation artists scheme.




Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 18

Jonas Kaufmann: I don’t like updated operas

In an interview with the German press agency, dpa, the great tenor says he is comfortable in the present Munich Meistersinger, which is set in no defined time, but he thinks that most time-shifts in opera simply don’t work. To avoid any risk of misinterpretation, we present his words in the original German: Frage: Die neue “Meistersinger”-Inszenierung soll nicht hochpolitisch sein… Antwort: Nein, es ist überhaupt nicht hochpolitisch. Es spielt in einer relativen Moderne – vielleicht in den 60ern, vielleicht in den 80ern. Es sieht ein bisschen nach Plattenbau-Siedlung aus an manchen Stellen, aber im Nirgendwo. Es ist sicher nicht das mittelalterliche Nürnberg, das ist ganz klar. Man muss ein Milieu schaffen von einem Club, in dem alle Mitglied werden wollen, und das kann man eigentlich überall machen. Das kann man tun, ohne das Stück zu missbrauchen oder auf Kosten des Stückes irgendwelche politischen Statements abzugeben. Das haben wir alles gehabt, das haben wir alles gesehen. So lange es mit der feinen Klinge passiert, finde ich das in Ordnung, aber wenn es das ganze Stück beherrscht und die Musik nicht mehr ihren Glanz und Zauber ausbreiten kann, kann ich es nicht mehr akzeptieren. Frage: Gilt das für Sie auch in einer Zeit wie dieser, die so aufgeladen scheint mit Hass und politischen Statements von allen Seiten? Antwort: Wenn jemand ein neues Stück schreibt, wenn beispielsweise Frau Jelinek (die österreichische Autorin Elfriede Jelinek, Anm. d. Red.) ein neues Stück erfindet, dann kann da alles rein, was momentan aktuell ist. Dann hat das auch seinen Sinn. Wenn aber etwas vor 100 oder 150 Jahren geschrieben wurde – vor allem in der Oper – da muss man sehr vorsichtig sein. Natürlich könnte man immer politische Statements auf die Bühne bringen und sagen, damit erreicht man die Leute, aber ich glaube, damit würde man das Ende dieser Kunstform einläuten. Dann hat das Besondere, das Magische keinen Platz mehr. Feine, kleine Anspielungen reichen. Wer es dann nicht sieht, der will es nicht sehen. Wenn es viele großartige neue Komponisten gäbe, die neue Stücke schreiben, die ins Ohr gehen, die die Leute akzeptieren, deren Komplexität man begreifen kann und die die Leute als Gassenhauer auf der Straße singen, dann können wir auch gerne alles neu machen und ganz nah am Puls der Zeit sein. Aber so lange wir Jahrhunderte alte Stücke hervorholen, ist das immer ein Spagat.

Classical iconoclast

May 18

Kaufmann saves Meistersinger, superb Salonen Stravinsky

All quiet on the Live Front, but a glut of good listening links online. For starters : Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - live from Munich :  Jonas Kaufmann is a dream Walter von Stolzing, giving depth and maturity to the role with his now slightly darker timbre.  Definitely an interesting take on the part.   That Prize Song is so ardent that it's not the work of someone new to the game.  Kaufmann is such a singular Walter that this is worth hearing for him alone.  Any new Die Meistersinger is high profile, especially when it is in Munich, so close to Nuremburg and also to Bayreuth, so perhaps I was expecting too much.  At this level, no performance is ever going to be bad, but I would have preferred something less generic. Because Kaufmann is the Bayerisches Staatsoper's greatest asset, you'd think they could have created  the whole thing around him. He's not a typical Walter, but that could have been an ideal opportunity to rethink things musically.  It's not as if the opera is unfamiliar, is it ?  We could cope with something unique, making the most of  Kaufmann's distinctive timbre. Walter Koch is a good Hans Sachs, but everything needs to be stronger and more individual not to be eclipsed by such a powerful Walter.  Despite listening carefully twice over, which takes 10+ hours,  I can't get specially fired up. Meistersinger should be much more than generic. Meistersinger opens the Glyndebourne season on Friday. Munich ought to win hands down; But who knows ? Michael Güttler is conducting. Although he's relatively unknown in the UK, at 50, he is no ingénu and has a reasonably solid background. Stravinsky : Myths and Rituals :  Esa Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra continues a fascinating season devoted to Igor Stravinsky.  As usual, Salonen's in-depth explorations with the Philharmonia go far beyond simply presenting "greatest hits". The concert on Sunday May 15th is now available on BBC Radio 3.  It includes Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1947 version). .  Salonen does wonders, bringing out its quirky originality. In the last few weeks I've been immersed in Boulez's recording of the 1920 version. What a joy to compare the two,and with two conductors who really understand.   On the radio, we miss out on the choreography specially commissioned for this performance of Agon, which is a pity since the work is usually heard without the context of dance, but the playing is so vivid, you can use your imagination.  A stunning Rite of Spring, too. On Sunday 21st,  Salonen and the Philharmonia will be doing Oedipus Rex with a good cast and a semi-staging by Peter Sellars.  Not being a Sellars fan, I think I'll stick to the live broadcast. More to come : Matthias Goerne : Mahler Early Lieder orch.  Berio, Heinrich Schutz from Regensburg, English Song Weekend and much more



Classical iconoclast

May 3

Remarkable Rossini - Otello

Gioachino Rossini's opera Otello  broadcast here on BBC Radio 3 - very different to Verdi's Otello and, indeed to Shakespeare's original play. The opera premiered in Decemeber 1816,  at a time when  Shakespeare was being rediscovered anew in continental Europe. Otello was overshadowed by the popular success of The Barber of Seville, but it's a very fine piece, and greatly cherished.  Technically it's very demanding, but fortunately there are voices to do it justice.  There are several good recordings and this broadcast is from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona in February this year. We could dream of  Bryan Hymel as Rodrigo and Jonas Kaufmann as Otello, but this cast  is pretty good. Jessica Pratt sings Desdemona, reprising the part she first created at Bad Wildbad in 2008,  Dmitry Korchak sings Rodrigo, Yijie Shi sings Iago and Gregory Kunde sings Otello. The conductor is Christopher Franklin. Notice: Otello isn't first, though he's by no means the least.  Rossini's interest in the interplay of voices led him to focus on the relationship between Rodrigo and Desdemona; he developed the characters, giving them spectacularly beautiful music to sing to.  Some of the arias in this opera are bel canto trailblazers, which almost literally defined the style. The tenor voice has great flexibility, lending itself to glorious coloratura display.  Listen out too for the duets and trios, where the subtle gradations in voice type create complex, interweaving patterns of sound. Rodrigo, Iago and Otello are bound together here by more than fate.  Desdemona and Emilia (Lidia Vinyes-Curtis) have lovely solos and duets.  Elmiro, Desdemona's father (Mirco Palazzi) is a bass, providing ballast.  The First Act sets context with its glorious orchestral colour, but already the music hints at something wayward and individual, in the solo instruments flying capriciously above the tumult. The most flamboyant passages occur in the Second Act. Rodrigo's aria "Che ascolto? ahimè, che dici?"  is a killer tour de force, ending with dramatic ornamentations on the word "Traditor". Normally passages like this stun a house into silence, but Rossini follows it with many more good moments, one after another. the cumulative effect is intoxicating. Vocal gymnastics aside, the focus on Rodrigo and Desdemona fleshes them out as personalities with whom we can identify. The Gondolier's song adds a haunting dimension, setting the mood for Desdemona's Willow Song with its delicate, sighing harmonies.  When violence intrudes on this atmosphere of melancholy beauty, the exchange between Otello and Desdemona is fast and furious.  The strings scream, the orchestra whirring as if driven by demonic winds. Otello and Desdemona are in fact singing similar words, though they're at cross-purposes. "Mori , infedel" cries Otello. As if stunned into horror, the orchestra reiterates stabbing staccato.  The Doge, Elmiro, Rodrigo and the chorus rush in but it's too late. Otello kills himself  "Punito m'avrà..." And suddenly, the drama ends, in shock. If you like Rossini's Otello, you'll like his Maometto II - another outsider more hero than villain - which I heard at Garsington. Read my review of that HERE and get the CD. Lots on Rossini opera seria on this site. Libretto of the 1816 version, as heard in Barcelona

Classical music and opera by Classissima



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