pondělí 14. května 2018

Glorious La forza del destino at Semperoper

One must wonder why La forza del destino had not become a regular title like other Verdi's favorites. There are many reasons – the difficulty of the plot for potential staging (not to forget that singing parts are extremely technically challenging), story that might not be as understandable nor popular as La Traviata or perhaps even Rigolleto. There is also the known conspiracy for the opera title to be cursed, mostly because in 1960 at the MET, Leonard Warren collapsed and died during the performance. Even Lucianno Pavarotti never performed in the opera on stage, and Franco Corelli had always followed a special ritual during performances to avoid bad luck. And yet, when Forza is produced at such venue like Dresden's Semperoper, there is no doubt that it was going to be a special event. And it truly was...

Verdi's masterpiece with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave was based on 1835 Spanish drama Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino by Ángel de Saavedra with a scene adapted from Schiller's Wallnsteins Lager. The opera premiered at The Saint Petersburg Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre on 10 November 1862. After the premiere Verdi himself revised some of the parts which led to the European premiere in Rome in 1863 under the new title Don Alvaro. There were many other productions (in New York and Vienna in 1865, Buenos Aires in 1866 and also in London a year later). Later on Verdi made futher changes – the new version which premiered in La Scala in February 1869 has become the standard one which included a new overture and additional final scene to Act 3 and new ending.

  Emily Magee (Donna Leonora), Stephen Milling (Il Padre Guardiano)

Dresden's Semperoper however decided to produce the original version which premiered in 1862 in Russia. Without the famos overture, opera's first scene takes place on a rather gloomy evening in front of house where Leonora bits good night to her father while secretly meeting her beloved Don Alvaro who's just about to leave her sight. And because Leonora's father Marchese di Calatrava isn't very keen on the idea of relationship between his daughter and Don Alvaro, he storms out of his rooms to find the two in each other’s arms. He's accidently shot by Alvaro who flees from the scene. After Calatrava's funeral, Leonora changes into man's cloths and runs away from home in order to search for her beloved Alvaro who's gone and nobody knows where. And here comes the moment when Leonora's brother Don Carlo appears and swears to kill both Alvaro and his sister for being responsible for father's dead. Don Carlo also changes identity and runs from home to find the couple.

Leonora wonders around the world in search of Alvaro. After years of searching she gives us and finds peace in the monastery's hermitage to live by herself without seeing anyone for the rest of her days. With lots of twists and turns in the story, the two men meet during a war and become best of friends (not knowing the real identities of the other person). Alvaro is wounded and Carlo finds out that he's the real killer of his father. Alvaro manages to escape once more and Carlo promises himself to find him and kill him.
Years go by and Don Alvaro enters the monastery and becomes Father Raphael. Don Carlo find him and forces him to fight; first he refuses but then he fights back and wounds Carlo in a duel. Alvaro (Father Raphael) runs into the cave in search of help for a wounded friend. Leonora comes out and recognizes Alvaro. She also sees her wounded brother, and as she bends over him, he stabs her in the heart. Leonora dies. Alvaro who can't bare the guilt of having killed or caused the death of the whole family (father, brother and Leonora), jumps to his death into the nearby ravine...

 Alexey Markov (Don Carlo di Vargas), Gregory Kunde (Don Alvaro)

And while Forza is never an easy task for stage directors, Dresden's simple staging went a long way. With a couple of technical movements of props, we could see the original house from Act 1 changed into a pub, hospital and monastery. The black and white carpets would be rolled in or out depending on the storyline and mood of each scene. I particularly enjoyed the two silent spiritual characters (an Indian and a Saint Mary holding a baby) appearing on stage whenever there was a destiny change that escalated into the final tragic death of everybody. The wonderful costumes and lighting were great assets to the already dramatic staging of Verdi's masterpiece.

It is extraordinary to hear such wonderful singers and see great chemistry on stage. And the fact that age is just a number is totally proven by legendary American tenor Gregory Kunde who at 64 sings Don Alvaro like nobody else today. His great technique best known from his earlier bel canto and mostly Rosinni parts pays off and he without any vocal difficulty sings big Verdi parts so wonderfully. I was lucky to hear him as Otello in Wiesbaden not even 10 days prior to his Don Alvaro in Dresden where he won over the audience with his great acting and singing style.

Emily Magee's Leonora was a strong and determined woman who wanted so much to be good and yet her life ended so tragically. Emily Magee is no stranger to heavier parts. I personally heard her as Tosca some years ago and I could tell her best years were to come. Well, the time has come and she has embraced her singing with great and yet very natural and dramatic sound that's unbeatable.

The big surprise for me was Alexey Markov who portraits Don Carlo who's determined to do what he can do fulfill his promise of revenge. His velvet baritone sounded fresh and was equal to Gregory Kunde's tenor especially in their wonderful duet in the last act.

Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth
Staging: Julia Müer
Director: Keith Warner
Costumes: Tilo Steffens
Lighting Design:Wolfgang Göbbel

Marchese di Calatrava / Il Padre Guardiano: Stephen Milling
Donna Leonora: Emily Magee
Don Carlo di Vargas: Alexey Markov
Don Alvaro: Gregory Kunde
Preziosilla / Curra: Christina Bock
Fra Melitone:Pietro Spagnoli
Un Alcade: Alexandros Stavrakakis
Mastro Trabuco: Gideon Poppe
Un Chirurgo: Allen Boxer
Una Donna: Kristina Fehrs

úterý 8. května 2018

2018 International May Festival - Káťa Kabanová, Un ballo in maschera and Otello

It is the time of the year again when I found myself in a lovely city of Wiesbaden for a couple of opera adventures. This year it was an interesting mix of operas with tremendous emotions, love, death and revenge. Janaček’s Káťa Kabanová, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and a Gala performance of  Verdi's Otello.

Janaček’s Káťa Kabanová is an internationally known and loved opera which has been staged on many different levels, set in various times and cultures. This production is interestingly set in simple, dark and rather negative looking Russian’s housing estate where all main characters live. Wonderful and rather simple staging reflects the pain, hate and longing of each person who wishes to be anywhere else but not here.

The orchestra was playing with dramatic gusto; and was not afraid to show the vulnerability – that could be said especially about Káťa / Varvara duet. Being Czech native speaker, I was very impressed with Czech language diction, especially from Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak who sang the title role of Káťa and her evil mother-in-law portrayed here by legendary soprano Nadine Secunde who sang the same role with Czech opera company in Ostrava a few years ago.

Conductor Philipp Pointner
Production Matthew Wild 

Stage Designer Matthias Schaller, Susanne Füller 
Lighting Designer Ralf Baars 
Chorus Master Albert Horne

Kaťa Sabina Cvilak
Boris Mirko Roschkowski
Kabanicha Nadine Secunde
Tichon Aaron Cawley
Dikój Wolf Matthias Friedrich
Kudrjasch Joel Scott
Varvara Silvia Hauer
Kuligin Christian Balzer


The premiere of Un ballo in maschera on April 30 was the actual opening night of 2018 International May Festival. What an opening! Verdi’s masterpiece that premiered in 1959 in Rome was set in the 1920’s prohibition in the United States where everything was polished with gangster-like elegance and mystery. One must confess it felt rather more like a trip to some old-fashioned cinema with a poster of Carole Lombard on the main building in Act 1 than to an opera performance.
The most interesting twist of this production was Ulrica’s scene. We are used to seeing Ulrica as a witch or some uninteresting creature that lives in a dark forest where nobody wants to go to. Wiesbaden Ulrica was a glamorous singer in a night club - carefree but wise smart woman who knew exactly what she was doing.

The highlights of this production were wonderful costumes and great lighting. Adina Aaron who sang the role of Amelia approached the role with lyrical beauty, I would say her best Verdi roles are ahead of her; I look forward to hearing her in more Italian repertoire in general in the future. Arnold Rutkowski’s voice lacked the dramatic skills; I don’t believe that at the age of 39 one is ready to sing Riccardo to its full potential. Unfortunately, the part was not ideal for him; however there was wonderful chemistry between the main characters on stage.
On the other hand Vladislav Sulimsky’s Renato was torn between love for his wife and loyalty to his friend. I do hope to hear his beautiful legato and color in more roles like Attila or Posa in the future.

Conductor Patrick Lange
Director Beka Savić
Stage Designer Luis Carvalho
Costume Designer Selena Orb
Lighting Designer Andreas Frank
Chorus Master Albert Horne
Riccardo Arnold Rutkowski
Renato Vladislav Sulimsky
Amelia Adina Aaron
Ulrica Marie Nicole Lemieux
Oscar Gloria Rehm
Silvano Benjamin Russell
Tom Florian Kontschak
Samuel Young Doo Park


First day of May belonged to a gala performance of Verdi's Otello. Giuseppe Verdi composed this masterpiece almost 30 years after Un ballo in maschera - with more mature and dramatic score that demands a lot from everyone involved in each production. The tragedy based on Shakespeare’s play with the libretto by Arrigo Boito premiered in February 1887 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

This rather unsophisticated and clever production allowed the audience to concentrate on characters and their relationships rather than on overdone staging details and costumes. The cast was mostly young and lively, especially wonderful and vulnerable Olesya Golovneva as Desdemona who seemed very passionate with big voice and energy that would break a mountain. I liked Aleksei Isaev’s tricky and evil Iago who didn’t stop at anything.

And yet, it was Gregory Kunde’s evening! American tenor who celebrated 40 years of his professional career has made Verdi's Otello his own. However, it was not always like that. Kunde who is known for his bel canto repertoire and later became one of Rossini specialists made the right choices at the right time for his voice. As he pointed out in our interview earlier on, he was able to make such repertoire transitions from bel canto to lighter and then more dramatic Verdi roles precisely because of the technique he’s used all those years.

Conductor Daniela Musca
Director Uwe Eric Laufenberg
Stage Designer Gisbert Jäkel
Costume Designer Jessica Karge
Lighting Designer Andreas Frank
Chorus Master Albert Horne
Youth Chorus Direction Dagmar Howe
Otello Gregory Kunde 
Desdemona Olesya Golovneva
Iago Aleksei Isaev
Cassio Aaron Cawley
Roderigo Joel Scott
Lodovico Young Doo Park
Emilia Silvia Hauer
Montano Alexander Knight