Tag: Jonas Kaufmann

More Lohengrin

I spent a few hours this morning watching Richard Jones’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin for the Bayerische Staatsoper, with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role and Anja Harteros as Elsa. I am not sure that even this production, which was a worthwhile concept performed well, has brought me around to this opera. In part, this was because I was watching it with le spouse, who started laughing and snorting coffee when Mr. Kaufmann came in cradling that animatronic-ish swan and who proceeded to sit there and nitpick the logic of the entire thing and then went and sat on the other side of the room reading a treatise about thermodynamics and enjoying the music.

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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (3)

(Previous section here.)

This was an entertaining few hours, but the opera is so full of references, musical and otherwise, to this other thing, “the wild West,” that I found it hard to really get into. Like the moment in Act I where Minnie says she hasn’t met a man she could love yet, and Rance replies “maybe you have found him!” and in (musically speaking) strolls Aaron Copeland. Puccini’s music references ‘the West’ over and over rather than using the music to show how it felt to be there.

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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (2)

(Previous section here).

So Minnie cheats, and wins. Meanwhile Dick is still bleeding. But he pulls himself together for Act III, where he is nearly hanged. But Minnie intervenes, appealing to the miners’ sympathy. This broadcast has German subtitles, and I was pleased to note that a word I learned reading Schiller, pflegen, “to look after” made an appearance on the screen – Minnie reminds one of the lost boys that she had gepflegt him when he was sick.

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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (1)

There is no reason that an Italian opera about the wild west should necessarily be any more silly than an Italian opera about, say, sixteenth century Spain. But this opera seems to be very invested in being a sort of set piece – it’s got everything from rifles to poker games to a hangin’, or almost a hangin’. There are even buffoonish Indians! But its setpiece quality is not entirely Puccini’s fault. The opera is based on a play by American author David Belasco, who was one of many late 19th century American writers and playwrights to capitalize on the popularity of stories about the west. According to Wikipedia, “similarities between the libretto and the work of Richard Wagner have also been found.” I guess if one goes out on a limb and assumes some similarities between the libretto and the opera, that would meant that there are also similarities between the opera and the work of Richard Wagner, but I don’t want to push the analysis too far.

The version that I watched was a copy of a live webcast from Vienna. Here is Act I:

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Verdi – Don Carlo / Salzburg 8-16-13 (3)

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And then there’s Jonas Kaufmann as Carlos, who is certainly also a reason to listen to this. His voice sounds deeper and more solid than some other Carloses I have heard; this Carlos is youthful and passionate, but he doesn’t give the character that “confused and in way over his head” vibe.

not so casto amor?One of the first things that appears in my notes for this (after “has Carlos gone ice-fishing?” because of the scenery in that first bit) is “what a voice this guy has” followed shortly by “yowza” in connection with some of the phrasing in Carlos’s bit where he’s going on about his “casto amor.”

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Verdi – Don Carlo / Salzburg 8-16-13 (2)

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In terms of concept this production did not seem radically different from other productions of this opera that I have seen. But the acting and stage direction do do something rather sweet and human and emphasize that Carlos and Elisabeth love each other in that elevated Verdian way, but they also want one another and crave the comfort of human contact. The two are about to snuggle up together on Carlos’s cloak when the chorus shows up in Act I to give them the news of the great change in plans; there are moments all through the opera where Elisabeth has her hands on Carlos’s shoulders or arms and then suddenly pulls back with this sort of “Merde! I’m touching him again!” look on her face; they consistently have their hands on one another during their big moments together, but it’s neither unalloyed lust nor a simple need for human connection – it’s somewhere between the two, and the fact that they can’t (for a variety of reasons) make it one or the other is fairly key to their whole unhappy situation.

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Verdi – Don Carlo / Salzburg 8-16-13 (1)

This Don Carlos was broadcast from Salzburg back in August. Apparently it has been on and off YouTube ever since – I think the Salzburg people are probably fighting an uphill battle as far as that is concerned. But isn’t that Firefox widget that adds a ‘download’ option to YouTube videos really cool? I say this only as an unconnected observation, not because I have been downloading videos of Salzburg broadcasts.

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Wagner – Parsifal / Metropolitan Opera 3-8-13

I watched and listened to this from a spot that I had never sat in before, the very rear of the orchestra section. Like, literally, the last row. Every time I go to the Met I am re-impressed by the sound: I have never ended up in a spot in that hall where I had trouble seeing or hearing. And what I saw and heard last night was well worth splashing through the slush for.

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Puccini – Tosca / Magee, Kaufmann, Hampson / Zurich Opera 2009 (3)

(Previous section here.)

This performance sounds quite nice. Puccini isn’t my favorite composer, and there are bits of the score, e.g. when the sacristan first comes in during Act I, that always sound over-busy and cute to me, like something from a Disney movie, but this is just me so never mind that.

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Puccini – Tosca / Magee, Kaufmann, Hampson / Zurich Opera 2009 (2)

(Previous section here.)

As noted, this is a production of Tosca which does not let you forget the theatricality of the story. Neither does it ignore the role religion plays in the drama – as the libretto indicates, Mario is a freethinker, Tosca is very pious, and Scarpia is a nasty hypocrite. Even though the stage for Act I is more theater than church Mario’s painting of Mary Magdalene is definitely a religious painting. (This is a minor point that doesn’t matter, but with all Mario says about how Tosca is ‘bruna’ it’s hard not to notice that Magee/Tosca’s hair is a terrific Agent Scully shade of red).

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Puccini – Tosca / Magee, Kaufmann, Hampson / Zurich Opera 2009 (1)

There are operas where if you ignore the ostensible setting in the libretto it doesn’t matter – or at least, it doesn’t matter very much. There are also operas where if you do this it can work but at the risk of causing the occasional what? moment. Tosca is in the latter category. The story is very specific as to its setting and time period – this is one of those librettos that refers to things like the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome and the Battle of Marengo. And Napoleon.

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Don Carlos / Bayerische Staatsoper 1-22-12

I wanted to see this because I will hear Verdi’s Don Carlos (Don Carlo when it’s in French) any chance I can get but also because the Elisabeth in this production is Anja Harteros. When I saw the DVD of Harteros as Alcina one of the aspects of that performance that struck me was those lovely high floated pianissimos. And Elisabeth is a role that contains a lot of high ethereal pianissimos.

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