Friday, May 26, 2006

Bayreuth 2006 Casts and Production Teams

The Festival Management of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus has announced the following cast lists for the Bayreuth Festival 2006. These lists are, of course, subject to alteration.

New production.
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Producer: Tankred Dorst
Stage design: Frank Philipp Schlössmann
Costumes: Bernd Skodzig

Wotan: Falk Struckmann
Donner: Ralf Lukas
Froh: Clemens Bieber
Loge: Arnold Bezuyen
Fasolt: Kwangchul Youn
Fafner: Jyrki Korhonen
Alberich: Andrew Shore
Mime: Gerhard Siegel
Fricka: Michelle Breedt
Freia: Satu Vihavainen
Erda: Mihoko Fujimara
Woglinde: Fionnuala McCarthy
Wellgunde: Ulrike Helzel
Flosshilde: Marina Prudenskaja

Siegmund: Endrik Wottrich
Hunding: Kwangchul Youn
Wotan: Falk Struckmann
Sieglinde: Adrianne Pieczonka
Brünnhilde: Linda Watson
Fricka: Michelle Breedt
Gerhilde: Satu Vihavainen
Ortlinde: Amanda Mace
Waltraute: Martina Dike
Schwertleite: Janet Collins
Helwige: Iréne Theorin
Siegrune: Wilke te Brummelstroete
Grimgerde: Annette Küttenbaum
Rossweise: Alexandra Petersamer

Siegfried: Stephen Gould
Mime: Gerhard Siegel
Wanderer: Falk Struckmann
Alberich: Andrew Shore
Fafner: Jyrki Korhonen
Erda: Mihoko Fujimara
Brünnhilde: Linda Watson
Woodbird: Robin Johannsen

Siegfried: Stephen Gould
Gunther: Alexander Marco-Buhrmester
Hagen: Hans-Peter König
Alberich: Andrew Shore
Brünnhilde: Linda Watson
Gutrune: Gabrielle Fontana
Waltraute: Mihoko Fujimara
First Norn: Janet Collins
Second Norn: Martina Dike
Third Norn: Iréne Theorin
Woglinde: Fionnuala McCarthy
Wellgunde: Ulrike Helzel
Flosshilde: Marina Prudenskaja

Tristan: Robert Dean-Smith
Isolde: Nina Stemme
King Mark: Kwangchul Youn
Kurwenal: Hartmut Welker
Melot: Ralf Lukas
Brangäne: Petra Lang
Young Sailor: Clemens Bieber
Shepherd: Arnold Bezuyen
Steerman: Martin Snell
Conductor: Peter Schneider
Producer: Christoph Marthaler
Costume and stage design: Anna Viebrock

The Dutchman: John Tomlinson
Daland: Jaako Ryhänen
Senta: Adrienne Dugger
Erik: Endrik Wottrich
Mary: Uta Priew
Steerman: Norbert Ernst
Conductor: Marc Albrecht
Producer: Claus Guth
Costume and stage design: Christian Schmidt

Parsifal: Alfons Erberz
Amfortas: Alexander Marco-Buhrmester
Titurel: Jyrki Korhonen
Gurnemanz: Robert Holl
Klingsor: John Wegner
Kundry: Evelyn Herlitzius
Squires: Clemens Bieber, Samuel Youn
Grail Knights: Julia Borchert, Atala Schöck, Norbert Ernst, Helmut Pampuch
Flowermaidens: Julia Borchert, Martina Rüping, Carola Guber, Anna Korondi,
Jutta Maria Böhnert, Atala Schöck
Alto soloist: Simone Schröder
Conductor: Adam Fischer
Producer: Christoph Schlingenschief
Stage design: Daniel Angermayr, Thomas Goerge
Costumes: Tabea Braun

Chorus master: Eberhard Friedrich

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Joseph Volpe Gala at the MET

It started at 5:30 pm in the house, and it ended about six hours later. On the radio, WQXR started at 8:00 pm in the East Coast and the broadcast ended around 12:30 am. I am not sure what was on tape and what, if anything, was heard live, but I do know that it was a very special event at the Metropolitan Opera.

Not everybody that was due to appear did, but at this kind of event that's to be expected. It would have been fun to have had Luciano Pavarotti serenade the General Director, but he didn't even show up, unlike Mirella Freni, to bid adieu to his former boss.

Plácido Domingo was there conducting and singing. His conducting was secure and pleasant, his singing was not. It was the first time that I have ever heard Domingo give a mediocre performance at a gala like this. Time waits for no man, and Domingo seems to have held its march well. It might have caught with him that evening. His zarzuela aria "No Puede Ser" sounded tight, and the staple "Granada" even tighter. He didn't even attempt to hit the climactic high B flat. However, I still think that Domingo is the operatic man of steel. I can totally see him rebounding and singing a great performance of something (operatic, I hope) in the near future.

Over the radio, the singer that came off sounding the best was baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Posa's aria from the last act of Verdi's Don Carlo. And while we are at it, the second best singer of the evening was bass René Pape, who sang an amazing rendition of "Ella Giammai M'amo" from the same opera. I can't wait for Pape to sing the role of King Philip after hearing this aria, and I can't wait to hear Dmitri in the role of Posa again. Their fresh young voices made veterans like Domingo, James Morris, and Samuel Ramey sound really old.

By the way, where was Bryn Terfel? I would have loved to have heard some Wagner or Mozart from him.

I hope that there are plans to issue highlights from the evening in DVD. The show will be broadcast on PBS June 1st, so I am sure that the DVD can't be far behind.

When Sir Rudolf Bing retired from the MET in 1972, DG issued an LP of the event featuring the greatest stars of that era. In some ways, the Volpe Gala tried to mimic that incredible event, even to the extend of having a funny song composed just for the occasion (and sung by Deborah Voigt) in the same vein as when Regina Resnik serenaded Sir Rudolf with new words to "Chacon a Son Gout," from Die Fledermaus. Needless to say, the new song just could not compare to the re-worded Strauss composition.

It was a memorable event, but not a perfect one, not by a long shot. Still, I would like to see the video, and I will most likely purchase the DVD of the event when it is issued.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

See George Fall!

See George fall, pick him up, or knock him about. Just use your mouse. Click here

The Da Vinci Code Film Opens Worldwide

It seems to me that if you have a product to sell these days that has something to do, even vaguely, with the Holy Grail, that your numbers have been pretty much in the black for a while, and will continue to remain on that side of the ledger. Just yesterday, for instance, I picked up Piers Paul Read's book The Templars in preparation for the onslaught of Grail talk that will continue to engulf us for a while. The publication of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code in 2003 has sparked an interest in this medieval topic, and has already propelled at least one successful legitimate spoof (Monty Python's Spamalot) that lends a welcome respite from all the serious medieval and conspiratorial plots and subplots that we currently seems to crave. Now with the worldwide release of the film The Da Vinci Code, which opened on May 19, we are back on track, once again submerged in the thick of all things conspiratorial and ecclesiastical, getting lost in both, and not being able to tell one thing from the other, which is the main goal of this new movie.

It is the first blockbuster of the summer, and it will do marvelously at the box-office. Most certainly, every other film this summer will have to compare itself to this one in box-office receipts, and I think that they will all fall short. This bonanza will be further sparked by all the talk-show banter about what the film is advocating, by the recent ruling in favor of Dan Brown in the British courts, and by the recent attacks against the movie by The Vatican, who is spending as much money to denigrate the film as Columbia Pictures is shelling out bucks to promote it.

Now to divulge some deep-seeded secrets that will no doubt stand your hair on end: If I told you that Jesus married Mary Magdalene would you believe me? If I told you that I saw this movie in sleepy Danbury Connecticut and that actor Harvey Fierstein was sitting right in front of me (with a woman!) would you think I had some kind of hidden agenda to report? "There are things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio..." let's just leave it at that.

What director Ron Howard has managed to do in his adaptation of the novel is to turn a juggernaut page-turner into a 148 minute boring day at the museum. Novel adaptations are always fun. The masterful ones (A Clockwork Orange, The Godfather) show us hidden potential that the work merely hinted at on the printed page. The truly awful ones like The Bonfire of the Vanities (also starring Tom Hanks) magnify the original work's deficiencies to the point where the once faithful public now begins to question the integrity of the original source.

Tom Hanks with his long locks, which don't look too bad on him, goes through the film with the same quizzical smirk on his face. Also, early on in the film, Mr. Hanks delivers a line from the script that contains a factual mistake concerning the garb penitents (not priests) wear during Holy Week in Spain, and this destroys for me the cinematic character of Robert Langdon right from the outset. A Harvard professor would not make this kind of error. Audrey Tautou plays it much too quiet and insignificant considering the secret that she carries, and Paul Bettany is much too pretty and not threatening enough physically as the deranged monk Silas. This is Paul's second film for Ron Howard where he plays a ghost either literally or figuratively. Jean Reno is not too effective as a French policeman. He was a lot more successful playing Gendarme Gilbert Ponton in this year's The Pink Panther than playing a legitimate cop in this film. The only one who survives this movie is Ian McKellen. That twinkle in his eye, and the way he caresses every line assures us that he knows exactly that all of this is Hollywood dribble. By not approaching it with any kind of seriousness at all, he makes us believe that he is the most serious performer in the entire cast. Bravo Sir Ian for making the two hours plus duration of this film bearable!

It's not that I hated The Da Vinci Code, it's just that I think it could have been trimmed down, speeded up, and it would have made a better film. This is the kind of story that needs Hollywood's smoke and mirrors in order to work. You need to fool the people into believing your side of the story. If you go slowly into it, you end up possibly exposing all the tricks, and the illusion is lost. This is the problem with Ron Howard's movie: it takes the subject matter way too seriously, and approaches it the same way you would a ponderous medieval tome. It's just a novel! It's just a movie! Entertain, don't preach!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Friday's Parsifal at the MET

After much gossip, a great deal of drama, and impending portents of cancellation throughout the week, tenor Ben Heppner went ahead and sang the tile role of Parsifal on opening night of the revival of this production at The Metropolitan Opera. He did pretty well too -- and so did the rest of the cast!

During the week I reported that Heppner had skipped the dress rehearsal and that the MET had hired two additional tenors for the three scheduled performances of this work. When I got to the MET Friday evening and got my hands on a playbill there was a paper insert inside, but Ben Heppner's name was nowhere on it. His name was most definitely printed on the actual playbill next to the name of the compassionate redeemer, the paper insert only alerted us to a minor cast change involving the Fourth Squire.

Heppner had taken the high road, and he wasn't taking any prisoners. Can you say "He did it!"

Two weeks after a Lohengrin broadcast where his voice cracked in the middle act, Heppner had once again stiffled his critics. Although he was not in choice form for his first ever Parsifal, he looked and sounded strong in the part, showing promise of greatness for the two upcoming performances.

Everyone delivered Friday night: Peter Schneider might not be the most exciting conductor, but he led a competent reading of the score which improved as the evening progressed. René Pape once again proved that he is the Wagner bass of our times with his noble reading of Gurnemanz. He is the only bass I can remember who shows how the character ages throughout the opera. We see him as a young man in the first act, but by the time Act III begins, he has become a gray patriarchal hermit who has trouble kneeling and standing up. Lucky for us. Gurnemanz's voice remains intact during the many years that elapse. Waltraud Meier stole the show on Friday. She first sang this role at the MET fourteen years ago and she made us all believe that she will be able to sing it for fourteen more. She earned a standing ovation after the second act. Thomas Hampson is one of our greatest baritones, but he tried too hard to show the pain of Amfortas' wound and, as a result, his voice lost its focus, especially during Act I. As long as he doesn't shout, Hampson can sing a hell of an Amfortas. His performance of this role in the Nikolaus Lehnhoff production from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden (available on DVD) shows what an intelligent approach he can lend to the role. Nikolai Putilin was creepy as Klingsor, but unfortunately he had to cope with extremely silly necromancy stage business. They should get rid of the "fireball" he hurls into the abyss in order to summon the spirit of Kundry back to life. I miss the old MET production with its Wieland Wagner touches of light painting upon a dark canvas. The Klingsor scene in that production had the right scary mood.

A few words about Ben Heppner: it's too bad that he skipped the dress rehearsal. He looked a little unsure of the blocking, and his performance was too broad, almost as if he still had not shaken off the Wilsonian affectations of Lohengrin. In Act I he looked too old and not at all believable as the impetuous youth with little regards for the fauna of Montsalvat. In Act II, surrounded by the Flower Maidens, he looked like a horny Peter Grimes. He has to work on making these two acts truthful for himself so that they will work for the audience. Act III was a lot better: he made a terrific entrance wearing black armor and carrying a great shield and spear. Vocally, it was obvious that he was holding back a bit, scared, perhaps, of having another catastrophic vocal incident. Hopefully, this performance has given him the confidence that he needs to let loose on Monday night.

Those of you who are attending the Monday and Thursday performances might want to add your comments to this blog. I would be interested to hear how the rest of these performances turn out.

The History Boys: on Broadway

The Broadway play to see last year was The Pillowman, so much so that I made sure that I got to the Booth Theater a couple of times; also, Doubt was worthy of all the Tony awards that it received. This year the one you've got to run to see -- and don't you dare miss it because it is going to sweep the Tonys -- is The History Boys, the hilarious, poignant, and often touching smash hit from London's National Theater of Great Britain. It was written by Alan Bennett, and it is one of the delights of this Broadway season. I saw it today at the Saturday matinee, and I think that it one of the great ensemble casts ever assembled on Broadway.

It is not often that this happens, but Actor's Equity has allowed the original British cast, which will be here for only a limited run, to perform the play in America. It is a rare chance to see the kind of work that goes on in London right here in Times Square.

The play is about a small group of British high school seniors who are getting ready to take a series of difficult exams which will determine if they will receive an "Oxbridge" education at the nation's two elite universities. But it is also about the deep relationships that develop between students, between teachers, and more importantly between teachers and students, For anyone who is or has been a teacher it is required viewing. It is the most thought provoking play about a school since Robert Morosco's chilling Child's Play. I am sure that as you watch the play thoughts of your high school days will creep in. Perhaps you will recognize in the boys a former version of yourself, or perhaps someone you know. More than likely, you will find one of your former teachers in the excellent array of adult characters that populate the drama.

It is such a tight ensemble that it is unfair to signal one actor without mentioning the others. Allow me to be unfair for a moment and signal out Richard Griffiths as the English teacher Hector and Samuel Barnett (pictured above), who plays the shy sensitive student named Posner. Both stand out in a cast which also includes the delightful Frances de La Tour (she played tall headmistress Madame Maxine in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), British character actor Clive Merrison (who has recorded the entire Sherlock Holmes canon for BBC radio), and Stephen Campbell Moore, who can be seen currently in AMC's smash hit Hustle.

Here is the official site of The History Boys. Click to get more information about this play.

In short, one of the most delightful plays Broadway has seen in many seasons, made even more special by the fact that it is currently being performed by the original British cast: don't miss it!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Heppner Baker and Lehman

Not an uptown New York law firm, but the three tenors, anyone of whom might be singing the title role in Wagner's Parsifal this Friday at the MET. It all started about two weeks ago when Ben Heppner began to lose control of his voice during the run of Lohengrin. After Heppner cracked towards the end of Act II during the Saturday broadcast, the tenor himself must have seen the writing on the wall, and he failed to sing this week's dress rehearsal of Parsifal. In his place, Mark Baker took over the title role and, according to a friend who was at the house for the rehearsal, things were very unsteady for the replacement tenor.

The MET fearing total disaster on opening night this Friday has now hired Gary Lehman (pictured above) who got rave reviews when he filled in for an ailing Plácido Domingo during the run of the Robert Wilson production of Parsifal this past winter in Los Angeles. He will be the understudy to the understudy. I guess we won't know who's going to sing Parsifal this Friday until we open our Playbills!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ben Heppner cancels rehearsal of PARSIFAL

A good friend of mine who attended the Tuesday rehearsal of Parsifal reported that Ben Heppner did not show up and that his understudy for this production, Mark Baker, performed in his place. I wonder if Mr. Heppner is resting his voice for Friday, or if he has decided (given the vocal problems he experienced on the broadcast of Lohengrin two weekends ago) to postpone his MET Parsifal debut until further notice.

The most distressing aspect of all of this is that my friend reported that Mr. Baker was very uneven. On the other hand, she went on to assure me that René Pape was wonderful; although at one point he took the liberty of stopping the rehearsal, breaking character and, stepping to the edge of the stage, he told conductor Peter Schneider that he was conducting the music too fast.

We shall see. They are falling like flies! First James Levine goes down (literally) and now, possibly Heppner. On paper, this once looked like a Parsifal cast for the ages, now, it's all beginning to sound like a bad retelling of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

No performance of Parsifal is ever business as usual, although I must admit that the MET has an excellent track record with this opera when it comes to superior casts and world-class conductors. I just hope that injury and ill-health have not dealt a debilitating blow to this year's production, and that Ben Heppner gets to sing on Friday.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sound and Führer

The Berlin Deutsche Oper opened on November 12, 1912 with a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. By 1933, the Nazis were in power and Dr. Josef Goebbels, Minister of Culture and Propaganda renamed this institution the Deutsches Opernhaus. This ten-minute B&W film segment shows Goebbels introducing the audience to a performance of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The opera house was destroyed in World War II.

I understand that this clip comes from the documentary "Great Conductors of the Third Reich: Art in the Service of Evil," and although I know very few details of the performance, I do know that Hans Sachs is sung by bass baritone Wilhelm Rode, and that conductor Karl Böhm leads the orchestra. If anyone knows more details concerning this performance, feel free to leave a comment on this blog.