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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, July 9, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
FESTIVAL-SEASON IN MUNICH 2007: *
Opera at the National-Theater & the Gärtnerplatz *
The Bavarian State Opera Is Under New Management! *
World-Premiere of Unsuk Chin’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND [****] *
Georg Friedrich Händel’s ALCINA [****] *
Modest Mussorgsky’s CHOWANSCHTSCHINA [***] *
Vincenzo Bellini’s NORMA [****] *
Petipa & Liska & Adam & Delibes’s LE CORSAIRE [****] *
Richard Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER [*****] *
Meanwhile, Over at the Gärtnerplatz-Theater: *
Munich’s Second-Tier Opera-house— *
New Hopes with a New Intendant: *
Coming-Attractions at the Gärtnerplatz-Theater! *
Otto Nicolai’s DIE LUSTIGEN WEIBER VON WINDSOR [***] *
Leonard Bernstein’s CANDIDE  *
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ CINDERELLA  *
FESTIVAL-SEASON IN MUNICH 2007:
Opera at the National-Theater & the Gärtnerplatz
Once again, as in many past Julys, Munich—the Capital of Freistaat-Bayern—welcomed the World to its Annual Opera-Festival. Not everyone came, as most of the tickets were sold-out early-on.
As a longtime Tourist-Mecca, Munich this summer certainly seemed to have people from all over the Globe thronging its Museums, Churches, Parks, & Plazas. But most of them were hardly aware that both the Bavarian State Opera & Bavaria’s second-tier Opera-House—the Gärtnerplatz-Theater—were offering a wide range of Musical-Theatre Classics & Modernities.
In addition to the Bayerische Staatsoper opera-productions reported below, the Münchner Opernfestspiele offered admired stagings of Werther, Così fan tutte, Roberto Devereux, Die Meistersinger, Das Gehege/Salome, Luisa Miller, Il turco in Italia, Le nozze di Figaro, Orlando, Fidelio, & Der fliegende Holländer.
Something for Almost Everyone! And the Gärtnerplatz offered My Fair Lady & Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in addition to its European-Repertory!
The Bavarian State Opera Is Under New Management!
With the Retirement last season of Staats-Oper-Intendant Sir Peter Jonas, a new Artistic-Director had already been chosen by Bavaria’s Kultur-Chiefs: the widely-esteemed stage-director, Klaus Bachler.
Unfortunately, Klaus Bachler is currently Intendant of Vienna’s famed Burgtheater, arguably the summit of Drama-Theatre in the German-speaking lands of Europe. But he cannot come to Munich until the 2008-2009 Season. Bachler takes office on 9 September 2008.
Fortunately, no Continuity has been lost—and the Jonas Legacy is being preserved—under the Pro-Tem artistic-management of the new General Music Director, Kent Nagano, strongly aided by a Directorate Trio, composed of Dr. Ulrike Hessler, longtime Director of Communications & now also of Program-Development, Business-Manager Dr. Roland Felber, and Artistic-Administrator Ronald H. Adler. In German, he has the much more impressive title of: Kunstlerischer-Betriebsdirektor!
The previous practice of integrating Art-Works into the Opera-Festival has been enhanced—and not only in the National-Theater itself, but also in the Pinakothek der Moderne—with the contributions of Hollywood’s T. Kelly Mason, of Leonel Estevez, Diana Thater, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Katy Schimert, Jill Spector, & Dawson Weber. Some of the works are Worthy of the Whitney—for what that’s worth… But some look like the efforts of Challenged-Schoolchildren.
But Times & Tastes seem to have changed. No longer are there two white Wooden-Horses lying on the steps of the National-Theater. Or Sofas sprouting green lawn-grass on Max-Joseph-Platz. Not to mention the entire Platz being carpeted with Garden-Dwarves, as in former times, under Sir Peter’s Intendancy…
World-Premiere of Unsuk Chin’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND [****]
If you are thinking Lewis Carroll, you are On-Target—even if Unsuk Chin, the young composer of Alice in Wonderland, was born in South Korea. The Appeal of Alice is Worldwide, after all.
But if you are also thinking of those wonderful drawings of Carroll’s Characters by Sir John Tenniel, think again!
The masked & costumed actor/singers & extras—as well as the many stand-in Puppets & Props—are all the imaginings of Nina Weitzner, though certainly recognizable as being based on the images of Carroll’s Initial-Illustrator.
What is even more astonishing, however, is the way both Humans & Puppets are deployed in Achim Freyer’s unusual staging. Freyer has worked his Designer-Magic before, notably with a Magic-Flute for the Salzburg Festival that worked like a One-Ring Circus! [European Circuses traditionally have only one Ring: Three-Rings is a Barnum-Bailey Innovation…]
What the audience first sees—on entering Munich’s Neo-Classic National-Theater—is a stage-filling, black Steeply-Inclined-Plane, with six square-apertures in it. [For regulars at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center, this could also at first resemble the steeply-slanting black-sections of levels for Tan Dung’s First Emperor, but they were suggesting the Building of the Great Wall of China…]
The apertures are used for the emergence of various characters, either as puppets or as masked-performers. For the White Rabbit to run up the Incline, black-clad puppet-handlers raise White-Rabbit-masks in turn, each backed with black, so he will seem to have moved-on, from hole to hole, as soon as the puppet-mask is reversed.
The Caterpillar is created from two of the apertures, in greenish segments, with a bass-clarinet-playing Stefan Schneider as one of the segments!
Audiences can see the Mad-Hatter, standing in the stage-right downstage-aperture. But his hat is nothing like the traditional Tenniel-Illustration. Instead, it Towers above his head, giving new meaning to the old name of "Stove-Pipe-Hat." This is the Image, not the Voice of the Hatter.
At the base of the Incline are seen pairs of lifeless White-Hands. In scenes such as the Mad-Hatter’s Tea-Party, these are animated by black-clad actor/singers, seen from the chest up in similar mask-make-up & wigs. Dietrich Henschel is impressive here, in-line, as the Mad-Hatter, though his top-hatted puppet-stand-in is actually seen on the level above him.
At the dizzying-top of the Incline, the Queen & Her Court are occasionally seen, two-deep, with live performers!
As Alice—mainly confined to the downstage center-stage aperture—the delightful Sally Matthews never loses her sense of wonder at all the Strange-Creatures & Bizarre-Activities that she encounters on her picaresque journey through Wonderland.
GMD Kent Nagano conducted this World-Premiere with obvious enjoyment of both the score & the Physical-Realization of the opera.
He was certainly strongly supported—not only by the Bavarian State Orchestra—but also by such actor/singers as Christian Rieger, Steven Humes, Andrew Watts, Guy de Mey, Cynthia Jansen, Rüdiger Trebes, Julia Rempe, & the still fabulous Gwyneth Jones, as the Queen of Hearts!
It has been suggested that Lewis Carroll’s original fable—written for little Alice Liddell, whom he was fond of photographing in Suggestive-Poses—was not merely a charming, world-upside-down-Fantasy. But it was also a strangely-challenging tale of a young girl—suddenly confronted by all kinds of mysterious Threats—for which she is ill-equipped to Cope.
Only by shouting: "You are only a Pack of Cards!" could she free herself from this ever-changing Nightmare…
The Libretto—by David Henry Hwang & Unsuk Chin—presents no real surprises, as an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s original. It does, however, contain Stage-Directions which Achim Freyer decided to Ignore—or adapt—given his Unique Puppet-Theatre-Conception.
[Hwang may be best-remembered as the author of the Broadway Hit, M Butterfly, but he is also seen on TV. Dance & the Railroad was an early Hwang triumph at New York’s Public Theatre.]
It had been reported that the composer was not initially-pleased with Freyer’s Visual-Ideas, but the Ecstatic Appreciation of the Munich Public may have softened her displeasure. Seated in front of Your Scribe with her family—Chin now lives in Berlin—she graciously & smilingly gave autographs to a group of Asian students.
As Freyer’s production is very complicated & requires a very large staff of stage-hands to operate, it will be difficult to tour. Nonetheless, it’s sure to be In-Demand, not only because of the Beloved-Subject-Matter, but also because of the Novelty of Freyer’s Concept.
Actually, Hwang & Chin’s original stage-directions will be much easier than Freyer’s to realize in future productions. And they also invite Designers with Enchanted-Imaginations.
Here is an extract of the Initial Stage-Direction in the Libretto:
"Lights rise to reveal an ancient library, filled with countless books, from floor to ceiling. An Old Lady guides her through the space. Alice discovers two Old Men, identical twins, playing chess and speaking inaudibly to each other… the Old Lady places a golden book in the girl’s hand. Then she disappears…
"Alice opens the book. In that moment, one of the book-covered walls transforms into a giant stone gate. Putting down the book, Alice crosses the portal. It opens slowly inwards, revealing… an old treasure chamber, filled with splendid jewels and treasures, covered with dust…"
So you can see that Chin & Hwang had quite another Vision of Alice & her Wonderland. As this new opera will certainly have various productions, perhaps, ere long, they will be able to see their own Imaginings onstage as well.
And how well did Chin’s innovative-score serve Lewis Carroll’s Fantasy? After all, this production was not entirely a Visual-Experience, was it?
Actually, there was in fact so much going-on Visually—some of it sudden & unexpected—that it was not easy to pay much attention to the orchestral & vocal-music. Your Scribe’s impression was of a Mélange of Modernity, with some Sprech-stimme used very effectively, especially for the Mad-Hatter & other Verbal-Encounters.
There will soon be a DVD of this new production, but it would be more helpful, in terms of the score, to hear it on a CD, rather than look at it at the same time. Or maybe one should see this production several times before hazarding an opinion?
Georg Friedrich Händel’s ALCINA [****]
Presented in Munich’s Jugendstil Prinzregenten-Theater, Handel’s Alcina—staged by Christoph Loy—is a Vocal-Fest. Anja Harteros is magnificent as the beautiful Sorceress Alcina, ably matched with Veronica Cangemi as her lovelorn sister, Morgana.
Vesselina Kasarova is amazing as the young hero, Ruggiero—even in GI Battle-Attire. She/He is well-paired with his beloved Bradamante, Sonia Prina, in Male-Drag as Ricciardo. This disguise, of course, ensures that a woman will fall in love with a man who is not a man—a Dramatic-Device that goes all the way back to Shakespeare. Even to the Theatre of Ancient Athens…
In 18th Century Italy & London, the White-Voices of famed Castrati opera-singers encouraged such Gender-Crossing. Handel was an adept in its use. Curiously, there is only one instance of his having a Man disguised as a Woman, rather than vice-versa. This is his opera-seria, Deidamia, or Achilles Among the Maidens—in which Achilles assumes women’s garb to avoid going to war.
Deborah York also appears as a man: Oberto, son of the Paladin, Astolfo—whom Alcina has turned into an animal. Astolfo, not Oberto! After all, Alcina is a legendary Enchantress, and her Magic-Kingdom is filled with trees, shrubs, & animals that once were Human-Beings!
Also admirable in this outstanding cast are Benjamin Hulett as Oronte, Alcina’s Field-Marshall, & Sergio Foresti, as Melisso. Conductor Christopher Moulds evokes exciting performances from all.
Because the Literary-Fable containing the Legend of Alcina is first encountered in Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso of 1516, Handel’s version of this segment of Ariosto’s Epic could easily be set & costumed in Classical Antiquity, Renaissance Italy, or an 18th Century Fantasyland.
Designer Herbert Murauer has chosen an oddly-constructed 18th Century Frenchified-Interior for the action. But he has deliberately mingled Contemporary Military Combat-Uniforms with elegant Period Court-Attire, complete with Panniered-Skirts & Powdered-Wigs!
[Can Swords compete with Kalashnikov-Rifles in Combat? Or is that not the way of make Period-Operas relevant to Our Troubled-Times?]
The basic set for Alcina is a great central-chamber, flanked with narrow hallways on either side, each featuring doors, almost in the manner of a French-Farce. A Romantic-Landscape dresses the back-wall of the Great Chamber.
In the second act, however, a Wunderkammer, with Cabinets of Curiosities has taken its place: all of them suggestive of Alcina’s Magic-Powers. And the white court-attire of Alcina’s attendants has now changed to sober black.
In the final act, all that has been swept away, leaving only two bare opposing-walls, standing against an endlessly dark sky, with drifting clouds. The Troops Move-In with their AK-47s—all looking like the Boys & Girls of Company B—and Alcina is Defeated.
One of the towering walls suddenly collapses onto the stage—all performers wisely out of range—symbolizing the Shattering of Alcina’ Magic-Spells & the freeing of her Transformed-Captives.
In the repertory of the Bavarian State Opera, this Alcina is indeed a handsome production. And with a cast like this one, it is worth a trip to Munich outside the Festival Season. But you may not get Festival-Quality casts in the depths of a Munich-Winter…
Modest Mussorgsky’s CHOWANSCHTSCHINA [***]
The most striking aspect of this innovative-staging of Musssorgsky’s Chowanschtchina—the German-spelling—is immediately the multi-chambered sliding-setting of Dmitri Tcherniakov. Who is also responsible for the modernized-costumes & the stage-direction.
What the audience sees initially is not a single Period-Setting in the great Proscenium-Frame of Munich’s National-Theater, but five different Chambers or Locations! These uniformly-gray-spaces are all conformed in the sparest of Post-Modernist-Design.
At stage-right, a very narrow slice of a larger room is seen, where Prince Ivan Chowansky, a Major-Player in the Tragedy of the Old-Believers is revealed. Center-stage is a much larger space: a Public-Area where two streets intersect, providing an ideal site for Confrontations between the beleaguered Strelitzi & the forces of the Kremlin.
On the stage-left side, another segment of a larger chamber is shown, where another Major-Player in the Tragedy of the Old-Believers is seated at his desk.
Most unusual of all, however, are the two chambers sited between these two side-rooms & above the street-intersection-box. In the very small room toward stage-right—rather like a cell in a Madhouse—the young Tzar Peter sits in a chair, almost immobile. And certainly not singing…
Next to this—and much grander—is a chamber with a very tall window, out of which the Regent-Tzarina Sofia steadfastly regards Moscow. Indeed—until she is led away for a Final-Solution—she spends most of the evening staring out that window! With a graphic moment of violent hanky-panky with her Power-Mad Lover to relieve the Tedium…
The second most striking aspect of Tcherniakov’s production of Chowanschtchina is the Power & Resonance of most of the voices. Notably Paata Burchuladze as Ivan Chovansky, John Daszak as Vassily Golitzin, Valery Alexejev as Schaklovity, Anatoli Kotscherga as Dossifey, & Doris Soffel as Marfa, the Old-Believer who can foresee the Future. None of it good for the Strelitze!
At the onset of the long reign of Peter the Great, major changes were made in the ancient Rituals & Observances of the Russian-Orthodox-Church—paralleling changes in Governance. The Strelitze—or Old-Believers—rejected both the Religious-Reforms and those in governance as well.
Ultimately, they were brutally Crushed, dying virtually en masse, with their brash, brutish leader, Prince Ivan Chovansky, unable to protect them.
Why Tcherniakov decided to costume his Russkis in Modern-Dress—with a few Fur-Collared Great-coats for a more Muscovian-Effect—is Visually Unclear. Masses of Christians willing to be killed by the State because of their Religious-Beliefs does not seem Very Now. But Fanatic Muslim-Fundamentalists—yes!
Possibly Tcherniakov thought the generally Contemporary-Attire would make the Strelitze & the Royals in the Kremlin seem more like any of us in the audience? But the Strelitze are not like most of us, are they?
In Tcherniakov’s production, there is a Visual-Sub-Text that occasionally attracts Major-Attention. The audience gets to see Major Male-Characters in their Underwear. In fact, there is a great deal of shirt & trousers-removal, notably in Tzarina Sofia’s chamber, when her lover, Schaklovity, strips down & drunkenly abuses her.
Even Tzar Peter changes Uniforms up in his Gray-Cubiculo.
At the close—when the Multi-Chambered-Set moves slowly upstage—the masses of Doomed Old-Believers fill the stage, as they sing seemingly endless odes to their God, in Pious Expectation of Crowns of Glory in Heaven for their Martyrdoms here on Earth.
In fact, they have been ordered by their Old-Believer-Priest to divest themselves of their clothes, in preparation for the End. But they shed only Outer-Garments, not stripping down to their Underwear.
[This recalls that Sect of Old-Believers who emigrated to Canada: the Dukhobors, who have on occasion stripped naked to protest Government-Interference!]
The final Confrontation of the Old-Believers with the Kremlin is an important moment in Russia’s long history of Oppression, but the Dramaturgy of Musssorgsky’s Chowanschtchina makes this opera problematic in production—especially the overlong pieties of the Fifth & final act.
Nonetheless, General Music Director Kent Nagano conducted with close attention to both the Pieties & the Power-Plays.
Vincenzo Bellini’s NORMA [****]
In previous Festival-Seasons, I was never able to see this Jürgen Rose-directed & designed production because the demand for tickets to see & hear the legendary Edita Gruberova in the title-role was always too great.
I feared I would never see her as Norma, as she must now be well past Sixty—and no voice lasts forever. In fact, I had seen her as Gilda in Florence at the Maggio-Musicale years ago. Even then, she seemed a rather matronly-daughter for the Court-Jester, Rigoletto.
What Gruberova does with her Voice—and with her powerful Dramatic-Performance—in Bellini & Rose’s Norma is simply amazing. She knows how to shepherd her Vocal-Resources carefully, but, at the same time, making it seem that she is only responding to the Fierce-Conflicts in the Heart & Soul of Bellini’s Doomed Druid-Priestess-Heroine.
Gruberova can sing full-out at the top of her Register—without apparent strain. Then, suddenly, she subtley nuances into the Softest, Sweetest, & Purest of Tones. These contrasts of Power & Fragility have tremendous Dramatic-Effect. But they are also effective in avoiding undue Vocal-Stress.
Her Norma is no young girl, in the first throes of love, but a Mature-Woman—with two young boys to rear. In Secret, however, as she is High-Priestess of the Gallic-Druids. Not only should she have remained Chaste & Virginal—as in her Invocation to the Druids’ Stainless-Goddess: Casta Diva—but she should never have broken her vows for the love of the Hated Roman Pro-consul, Pollione!
The Plot Thickens, of course, when a Novice in the Forest-Enveloped Druid-Temple confesses to Norma that she has fallen in Love. Norma is all Understanding & Forgiveness—Adalgisa could be her some years before, after all—until she learns that Pollione has shifted his Fickle-Affections onto the Novice, who is now her Rival.
Even if you do not already know Norma, you can guess No Good can come of such a situation.
Felice Romani’s tragic-text plays out on the Ground-Floor of Jürgen Rose’s Ur-Forest Druid-Temple & in a kind of cave Underneath, where Norma lives with her maid & two Illegitimate Children.
The Darkness of the tragedy is made even more Finster by Rose’s preference for Shades of Black in the settings & costumes, as well as Minimal-Lighting onstage. Rose’s Druids—all Superstitious-Heathens, soon to be suppressed or converted by Rome’s Legions—seem not only Wild Men of the Forest, but also Modern Freedom-Fighters as well!
Wearing long black robes, when they prepare for Battle with the Romans—pulling Black-Masks down over their faces—they look very like Arab-Terrorists on the Ten O’Clock News!
The fact that they have traded their Primitive-Spears for Kalashnikovs & other Military-Rifles may seem at Odds with the Historical-Period ostensibly onstage, but this Introduction of Modern-Weapons into otherwise Historical or Legendary Opera-Plots must be there for a Reason.
Could it be that the Stage-Directors & Designers of many German Opera-Houses are Anti-War? And that they want to remind their Audiences how Terrible the Effects of War are upon the General-Population, whether in the Era of the Ever-Expanding-Roman-Empire, in the Fantasies of Orlando Furioso, or in American Military-Adventures in the Middle-East?
In any case, it is now clear that most European Opera-Houses ought to be Fully-Armed—with the latest Army-Ordnance, such as AK 47s—in order to present any operas with even the smallest Skirmish or Public-Brawl in the most Modern way possible! We have already had Romeo & Juliet with Hand-guns instead of Swords…
As for the rest of the cast of Norma, Zoran Todorovich’s Pollione—in Modern Military-Uniform, of course!—looked handsome & dashing enough. But his voice was initially strained, and, although he improved later, his vocalizing sounded effortful.
Carmen Oprisanu was impressive as the Novice-Priestess, Adalgisa. Indeed, she almost Vocally-Upstaged Gruberova at times. Cynthia Jansen was a serviceable Clothilde, Norma’s maid & her sons’ nurse.
Simón Orfila was admirable as Oroveso, Druid High-Priest & Norma’s fierce father.
In the pit, Stefan Anton Reck was anything but reckless in his conducting.
Petipa & Liska & Adam & Delibes’s LE CORSAIRE [****]
From long, long ago, one remembers the flying-leaps of Rudolf Nureyev in Le Corsaire. In the Bavarian State Ballet’s handsome reconstruction & enhancement of Marius Petipa’s original choreography, Tigran Mikayelyan—as the Pirate-Hero, Konrad—is not quite up to the standard set by Russian Rudy, but he is very good as a Premier-Dancer & also as a dashing Stage-Personality.
Ivan Liska, the State-Ballet’s Director, has gone to great scholarly-lengths to restore—and also augment—the Petipa Corsaire, all of which is thoroughly-documented in the handsome Program for this new production.
There is even a detailed Outline of the various musical-extracts used for the Old/New Plot-line, which enlists both Adolphe Adam & Leo Delibes’ compositions. As if they were not sufficient resources, Liska also employs music by Cesare Pugni, Richard Drigo, & even the Prince von Oldenburg!
In addition to a number of interesting Historical-Scenes & Portraits in the program, there is even a photo of Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean: right up there with a portrait of George Gordon, Lord Byron—looking himself somewhat Piratical in Greek Warrior-Garb—the creator of the Original Corsaire Poem & Legend. The Depp/Caribbean Pictorial-Quote must have been included to remind us that Pirates are still Big Box-Office.
[The Program also notes the aid of the Harvard Theatre Collection in this Restoration & Production. Specifically, it salutes Frederic Woodbridge Wilson, the Collection’s Curator—with whom Your Scribe once worked, when Ric Wilson was the Gilbert & Sullivan Curator at the Morgan Library. Because W. S. Gilbert contributed comic-caricatures, poems, & satires to Punch, the famed British humor-magazine, I gave my almost-complete run of Punch from first year of publication up to 1890 to the Morgan when Wilson was still there.]
Actually, little of Byron’s Romantic-Poetry could survive in a Corsaire ballet conceived initially as a Vehicle for showing-off the myriad talents of the Mariinsky Ballet—and now reworked for the Munich Ballet-Ensemble.
What the Byronic-Inspiration does provide, however, is the opportunity to design Lavish Oriental-Scenes & Exotic Desert-Island Pirate-Havens. As well as to created beautifully romantic Middle-Eastern Costumes for both men & women.
Elegant & Opulent Costumes: whose often gauzey fabrics move wonderfully with the bodies of the dancers in motion. Roger Kirk was the designer of all this colorful Orientalia…
The three Major-Scenes are a Thief-of-Baghdad Market-Place in Andrinopel, a Grotto on a Pirate-Island off the Coast of the Levant, & the Palace of Said Pasha in Andrinopel.
In the Andrinopel Market-Square, Corsair Konrad falls instantly in love with the lovely Medora [Lisa-Maree Cullum], the Ward of Lankedem [Norbert Graf], a Slave-Dealer, who makes a profitable sale of the Charming & Willing Gulnara [Séverine Ferrolier] to the arrogant Said Pasha [Vincent Loermans], Ruler of this obviously Muslim-Arab-Territory.
Having already bought Gulnara for his Harem, Said Pasha catches sight of Medora & is willing to pay a great price for her. This is an Offer Lankedem cannot refuse—even though she’s Family.
Konrad’s Pirate-Companions create a highly-charged Dance-Disturbance, so the Pasha does not see Konrad spirit Medorda away to his ship. And ultimately to his Island-Retreat, where a Fellow-Corsair, the proud Birbanto [Alain Bottaini] tries to seize Medora for his own. He dies.
Key to Medorda’s Flight & Union with Konrad is Ali [Marlon Dino], Lankedem’s House-Slave—who becomes a Corsair & a Free-Man for his aid to the Lovers. Dino—as Ali—is also a remarkable dancer—the best of the male-principals on stage.
Lankedem succeeds in stealing Medora away from Konrad & the Island, taking her back to Andrinopel to sell to Said Pasha—who has him whipped for his efforts, not paid. But the Pasha keeps Medora.
As all this Flesh-Selling is going on in the Pasha’s Harem, an Ideal & Picturesque Locale for the Principals, the Odalisques, the Corps de Ballet, & the Children of the Bavarian Ballet-Akademie to show their considerable talents.
The Pas de deux of Lisa-Maree Cullum & Tigran Mikayelyan—Medora & Konrad—was splendid: a Shared-Joy in their remarkable athletic & aesthetic Abilities. There was no sense of that fiercely-competitive & too-often-seen: Everything You Can Do I Can Do Better…
After several evenings with the Hamburg Ballet just before Munich, Your Scribe was not quite prepared for the general Level of Excellence of the Bavarian State Ballet, although it has steadily been improving under the direction of Ivan Liska, who was previously in Hamburg with John Neumeier: today, that is the best preparation for a Dancer, a Choreographer, & an Artistic-Director.
Myron Romanul conducted the Bavarian State-Orchestra—who had quite a different, even Eclectic, score to play than Bellini’s Norma on the previous evening. The Ballet-Music was often bumptious & bouncy, heavy on Percussion, so no one could miss the Beat.
Richard Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER [*****]
This Rosenkavalier must be one of the Bavarian State Opera’s Oldest [& Most Handsome!] Productions. It was created way back in 1972, with attractive staging by Vienna’s Otto Schenck & splendid designs by Munich’s Jürgen Rose.
Schenck’s often ingenious stage-direction—recorded at the production’s inception—has been more or less successfully replicated over the past 35 years by a series of Spielleitern.
But the last time Your Scribe saw this production, a few seasons ago, some of the Silver-Gilt Baroque-Decorations had fallen off the luxurious set for the Feldmarschallin’s vast Chamber-au-Coucher & the Newly-Ennobled Herr von Faninal’s Great Hall.
These Testimonies to Three-Decades of Wear & Tear have all been removed. The Entire Schenck-Rose Production now looks Like New. When it really was new, it looked better than the Vienna State Opera’s version of this most beloved of Hugo von Hofmannnsthal/Richard Strauss operas.
Today—considering how Jürgen Rose’s designs have evolved over the decades—would he still design Rosenkavalier In-Period?
Or would he transpose the three major-scenes to a kind of Jugendstil Otto Wagner/Kolo Moser Pre-World-War-I Vienna? But with no Kalashnikovs for the abortive-duel between Baron von Ochs & Octavian Rofrano…
Fortunately, Munich Audiences do not yet have to find out what a new would look like. The present Historical-Evocation is still a tremendous Treat!
And even more so this Festival Season, with Adrienne Pieczonka as the lovely—but ageing—Feldmarschallin von Werdenberg. She is both vocally & dramatically the Splendid Mistress of this Challenging-Role.
As her Octavian, Sophie Koch was properly ardent & boyish, with Chen Reiss the charming, innocent Sophie, whom the young Graf Rofrano will save from the grubby clutches of the Swinish, Loutish Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau—lustily & amusingly sung & played by John Tomlinson—a former Bayreuth Wotan! Talk about Role-Contrasts!
Also able was Eike Wilm Schulte as the Social-Climbing Von Faninal—who has made his money & won his Title by providing Arms for the Habsburg Wars in the Spanish-Netherlands.
Not to overlook Ulrich Ress as the intriguer Valzacchi & Anne Pellekoorne as his accomplice Annina, plus Irmgard Vilsmaier as Sophie’s Duenna—who occasionally overwhelmed her vocally.
Piotr Beczala was the beleaguered Italian-Tenor, drowned out by Ochs’ noisy Marriage-Contract negotiations. American Kevin Connors was, as always, effective as both Faninal’s Major-domo & the Innkeeper where Ochs loses what little Reputation he had left.
The popular & genial Peter Schneider conducted with Straussian-Zest.
While this production dates from 1972, the handsome program—still in use, in countless reprintings—dates from 1978, conceived & edited by Dr. Klaus Schultz, who was then Dramaturg for the Bavarian State Opera. [He later became Musik-Dramaturg for the Berlin Philharmonic, returning to Munich to head its Second-Tier Opera, the Gärtnerplatz-Theater.]
This Rosenkavalier Program is a "Keeper," not only for its Scholarly Essays & Backgrounds, but also for its many Illustrations, including photos of the original production in Dresden, as well as Programs from both Dresden & Munich Premieres.
Reproductions in the program of Alfred Roller’s colorfully Commedia dell’Arte Costume-Designs for Dresden suggest that he—Vienna’s Leading Jugendstil Stage-Designer—as well as Strauss & Von Hofmannnsthal, saw this work more as an Opera-Buffa than the Elegant & Nostalgic Meditation on Love Lost & Love Renewed in 18th Century Imperial-Vienna that it has since become…
Meanwhile, Over at the Gärtnerplatz-Theater:
Munich’s Second-Tier Opera-house—
New Hopes with a New Intendant:
After a long & innovative Staats-Intendancy, Dr. Klaus Schultz has completed his work with the historic Gärnterplatz-Theater. He now can look back on a long list of outstanding productions of Opera, Operetta & Musical-Theatre, a number of which remain in the repertory.
But Summer 2007 saw the final performances of the impressive Mayakovsky’s Death & Das Beben, or The Earthquake, both of which have been reviewed by Your Scribe in previous summers.
Dr. Schultz is succeeded as Artistic-Director by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Peters, who has made quite a name for himself in German & French Opera & Theatre. He studied in Munich at its prestigious Ludwig-Maximilian-Universtät—and was soon working as assistant with leading stage-directors in Munich, Stuttgart, & Strasbourg.
Dr. Peters’ first professional-engagement was in Freiburg, way back in 1981. In 1982, however, two of his stagings—Cavalli’s L’Ormindo & Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos—attracted attention beyond the boundaries of Southwest-Germany.
From 1983 to 1986, Peters had the very good fortune to work in Geneva & Brussels with such European-Greats as Jerome Savary, Luc Bondy, Karl-Ernst Herrmann, Jorge Lavelli, Maurice Bejart, & even Ken Russell!
Over the years, Peters has become identified with innovative productions of some almost forgotten Baroque-Opera-Composers: Telemann’s Damon, as well as Handel’s Ariodante, Semele, Xerxes, & Almira!
Nor is he a stranger to neglected—at least on German opera-stages—Modern Composers & Works: How about Montemezzi, Weinberger, Zemlinsky, Britten, & Barber?
In addition to Dr. Peters’ work as an Opera-Regisseur and, now, as Staatsintendant of the Gärnterplatz-Theater, he is also a Professor of Culture-Management at the University of Augsburg!
Great Things are expected of Ulrich Peters at the Gärnterplatz!
[It may seem strange to American Fans of Theatre & Opera that so many stage-directors in Mittel-Europa have both Doctor-Degrees & Professor-Titles. Usually, the most that can be hoped for—in terms of Higher-Education—is that an American director will have a Yale MFA…
[Not so in much of Europe, where Regisseurs & Intendants often have PhD degrees from Major Universities. Oddly enough, many important Politicians also have Doctoral Degrees! Imagine Dr. Trent Lott, for instance…
[It is also the custom for European States & Cities to honor Outstanding Theatre-Talents—especially notable Directors, Designers, & Conductors—with the title of Professor & an Annual Stipend to make the honor even sweeter. Many such honorees do, in fact, lecture at the Universities that have given them the degrees!
[It was once Your Scribe’s Dream to have Hal Prince be named Professor of Musical-Theatre at Brooklyn College. This could have come to pass, but Hal was still very much involved in Broadway & said maybe when he was 78 or so, he’d be interested. He’s now exactly that age & so am I, but I am long-retired from Brooklyn & CUNY & no longer able to make such a proposal, alas.]
Coming-Attractions at the Gärtnerplatz-Theater!
Among the Premiers planned for Season 2007-2008 is a new Figaro’s Hochzeit, directed by Alfred Kirchner—who staged the memorable Bayreuth RING, designed by Rosalie, the first woman to design any Wagner Opera for the historic Festspielhaus.
Also on-offer will be Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe, to join Nicolai’s Lustige Weiber von Windsor, as well as Jerry Herman’s La Cage aux Folles & Philip Glass’ Die Schöne und das Biest—or Beauty & The Beast, with no apologies to Walt Disney Productions©.
Other Premieres: Christ O, a Rock-Opera commissioned for the Gärtnerplatz—inspired by Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Christo—plus such classics as Verdi’s I Masnadieri—based on Schiller’s Die Räuber—& Auber’s Fra Diavolo, oder Das Gasthaus in Terracina!
Have you ever seen Fra Diavolo on either the Met or City Opera stages? Not likely!
In addition to some new Dance-Works by Hans Henning Paar, the Gärtnerplatz Resident-Choreographer, there will also be a Munich-Premiere of Der Mann im Mond, by Cesar Bresgen.
The regular Repertory includes Carmen, Undine, Martha, Hänsel & Gretel, The Magic-Flute, La Bohème, La Traviata, Barber of Seville—performed by Winged-Insects, Die Czárdásfürstin, Zar & Zimmermann, A Night in Venice, & My Fair Lady. Quite a Range of Choices in Musical-Theatre!
Otto Nicolai’s DIE LUSTIGEN WEIBER VON WINDSOR [***]
The Idea of performing Otto Nicolai’s "Komisch-Phantastische" opera—known in English as The Merry Wives of Windsor—in an evocation of Shakespeare’s Globe-Theatre was a really clever inspiration.
No less a Directorial-Genius than the late Wieland Wagner also used that idea to celebrate both Shakespeare’s 400th Birthday & the first-ever Wagner-staging of his grandfather’s Die Meistersinger as—in his own words—"A Comic-Opera!"
It was also a Cute-Idea for the Gärnterplatz-Theater’s production of Merry Wives to have a scene from the Bard’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in progress on the Globe Stage. Complete with Bottom wearing an Ass’s Head, as he is cuddled & cosseted by Titania & some of her Lady-Fairies—bumptiously impersonated by Grown-Men, rather than by Shakespeare’s Boy-Players.
The Gärnterplatz Chorus—variously costumed to suggest Elizabethan-Attire & raffish University Studenten-Korps revelers—not only provided Choral-Support, but also loudly commented on the performance, throwing the occasional bread-roll.
From the Loge above the stage, Wm. Shakespeare looked down quizzically on the farcical Carnage below, with a lady who might have been Queen Elizabeth I at his side.
Suddenly, four Musketeers—or Cavaliers, or Pirates-of-the-Caribbean—rappelled down the facades of the Globe’s tiered-seating to make their Presences known to the Unfortunate Actors. Apparently the Performance was not to their liking?
Indeed not! In fact, these rowdy fellows were Women-in-Disguise, fed-up with Shakespeare’s plays being performed by All-Male Casts!
So the Program was rapidly changed to Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, with two banners hoisted in front of the Stage-House, advertising Echt Weiber, or Real Women!
This Production-Concept is still a Great-Idea, but the stage-direction of the Gärnterplatz Merry Wives was often just this side of Chaos!
The Regisseur, Julia Riegel, had no idea how to manage the all the Principals, the Supers, & the Chorus on stage together, so that the Visual-Effect was often a Mess: more like a Sophomoric Cross-Dressing Hasty-Pudding-Show at Harvard…
Nonetheless, some small-scale scenes—with interactions between Falstaff & his intended Lady-loves worked fairly well. Jörg Simon’s Sir John suffered somewhat from the Fat-Suit he had to wear, but his Spirit was untamed both Amorously & Vocally.
Shakespeare’s Mistress Ford—known to Otto Nicolai as Frau Fluth—was charmingly impersonated by Elaine Ortiz Arandes, with Gary Martin properly frantic as her fiendishly jealous husband. Her Partner in Shaming Sir John—here named Frau Reich—was the admirable Martina Koppelstetter.
As in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives, Herr Reich—Pawel Czekala—wants his lovely young daughter, Anna [Thérèse Wincent], to marry Junker Spärlich [Florian Simson]. But Frau Reich is determined Anna will marry the elegant, foppish French Doctor Caius [Johannes Beck].
As in most Bardic Comedies, so also in this Germanic-Operatic-Version: All’s Well That Ends Well, as Anna & her beloved Fenton [Michael Suttner] fool them all, being secretly married during all the Hubbub at Herne’s Oak!
The Gärnterplatz ensemble is generally blessed with young, talented, & attractive actor/singers. So even when the Chorus seemed to be running-amok, they still sang very well indeed.
In fact, the Vocal & Orchestral-Quality of this performance was generally Excellent: but all the more difficult to achieve with awkward costumes & props, as well as Inane Stage-Movement & Comic-Business that was often Embarrassing, rather than Risible.
Design-credits go to Caroline Neveu Dumont for both sets & costumes. But why she wanted to mix Costume-Design-Periods onstage was not clear…
Leonard Bernstein’s CANDIDE 
A great fan of Bernstein’s Candide Score—but perhaps even more for its Lyrics, by such talents as John La Touche, Stephen Sondheim, & even Lillian Hellman, whose original-book prevented this Musical-Theatre-Classic from becoming a Broadway Hit first-time-round—Your Scribe saw this effectively Konzertant-production when it was new at the Gärnterplatz.
I was looking forward to seeing it again—especially with the clever illustrations of Loriot, popular in Europe, virtually unknown in the US—but it was End-of-Season & All Sold-Out, alas…
My previous report is Archived somewhere on New York Theatre-Wire.com…
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ CINDERELLA 
There were only four performances of this charming Opera-for-Children, as the Cast—from the Munich’s Musical Pestalozzi Gymnasium, or High-School—had Summer Holidays ahead!
But these are Modern Teens, with modern Cares & Worries: about Clothes, about their Parents, about how Things are at home, about how other kids look at you, about whom you like or dislike, about your Hopes for the Future: Stuff like that…
The Gärtnerplatz program for this show is largely made up of Cinderella’s Diary, somewhat like that of Bridget Jones! Imagine doing this for an opera-program over at the State-Opera: Druid-Priestess Norma’s Diary Discovered under a Damp Stone!
As Your Roving-Reporter had just seen John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet version of the Cinderella-Legend—which is nothing like either the French sentimentality of Charles Perrault or the grim Bros. Grimm German accounts of Cindy’s Adventures—he was curious to find out what Sir Peter Maxwell Davies had done to "difference" the story for Young Audiences.
In this version, Cinderella arrives at the Railroad-Station to take up her duties as au-pair to the Widow Frau Growly—actually Knurrig, in German—who expects Cindy to wait hand & foot on her three Demanding Daughters.
Nothing Cinderella does is Enough or Right. She has only her old Stuffed-Cat to console her. At her lowest ebb, the Cat [Ramona Wilfling] comes alive!
And just in time, as a Herald has come to announce the Prince’s Ball at the Palace. The three sisters will be there arrayed in their Finest, each seeking a handsome & possibly rich husband: their Mother’s Dream for them.
But they won’t take poor unhappy shabby Cindy along with them!
When they have all departed for the Ball, Cinderella’s resourceful Cat summons a platoon of Little-Kittens to help her prepare for a glamorous appearance at the Palace.
But she has to leave before Midnight! [And why not? There might be something good on the Telly at home!]
At the Ball, the Commandants of the Army, the Navy, & the Luftwaffe all fall madly in love with the Widow’s Three Daughters & beg the excited girls to marry them.
That leaves the way wide-open for the Eventual-Nuptials of the Prince & Cinderella. Au-pair Girl, you’ve Come a Long Way!
Katherina Schreiegg was Cinderella, with Augustin Steinberg as her Prince. The Widow Knurrig was played by Jessica Miut, with a trio of Mean Daughters named Medusa, Hekate, & Dragonia, amusingly impersonated by Eliza Haralampides, Amelie Barth, & Tamara Nüssl.
The Chorus was drawn from the Pestalozzi Gymnasium classes 5 through 7. The Orchestra was composed of students from classes 6 through 9, with Percussion chosen from classes 9 through 12.
Nina Kühner staged, with Choreography by Alan Brooks & Dramaturgy by Susanne Böhm. Susanne Pische designed set & costumes, with lighting by Georg Boeshenz. Christoph Altstaedt conducted the enthusiastic young singer/actors.
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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