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"I don't want to set the world on fire":Voigt as Brünnhilde - Götterdämmerung, MET 2012

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 30 August 2011 | 6:09:00 am

Voigt as Brünnhilde Met 2012 (Publicity photos)

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Wagner's 'Parsifal' Draws 5,000 in 4 Nights in Estonia

Parsifal: "So, do you come here often?""
An audience of around 5,000 applauded the National Opera production of Richard Wagner's opera "Parsifal", performed for the first time ever in Estonia, at the reclaimed Noblessner Foundry on Tallinn's waterfront.

Parsifal, the last opera written by Wagner, premiered in Bayreuth in 1882 and is considered one of the most complex classical music pieces, presenting a major challenge to companies choosing to stage it.

Just like in 2008, when Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" was put on stage in Tallinn, the production drew a full house. The difference, however, was in the venue - while the National Opera seats just 700, the recently converted Noblessner Foundry accommodates nearly twice as much. According to the National Opera, groups of Wagner connoisseurs, journalists and critics from across the world, traveled to Tallinn to listen to Wagner's masterpiece during its four-night run from August 25.

Surprisingly, a younger audience made up a large share of the visitors at the Noblessner Foundry, the organizers said.

On November 5, Giacomo Puccini's opera "Manon Lescaut", another first-timer in Estonia, will premiere at the National Opera. The musical director and conductor will be Arvo Volmer, with Latvian-born Andrejs Zagars as the stage director.


A revew follows

The event, one of a four-night run at the venue, was a massive undertaking for the Estonian National Opera and a special showcase for Tallinn in its role as European Capital of Culture 2011.

The crumbling seaside Noblessner Foundry inspired a "Parsifal" heavy on apocalyptic imagery, and a portrayal of rundown humanity in need of redemption. The setting was stunning and thought provoking. This was Wagner brought out of its 19th century philistinism, addressing contemporary life with stark settings and irony.

Richard Wagner took the grail legends of Europe’s Middle Ages, especially Wolfram von Eschenbach's "Parzival" from the 13th century and adapted them for musical theatre at Bayreuth in Bavaria, the Mecca of all things Wagnerian. He authored all aspects of the opera’s production, including the libretto. It was first performed in 1882 and not performed away from Bayreuth for twenty years. In short, it was a work driven and controlled by the vision of the composer. It would be interesting to note Wagner’s comments on the production at Noblessner Foundry.

Over the last 130 years, there has been a plethora of interpretation and criticism on the meaning of "Parsifal", much of it conflated with the sometimes less than savory private musings of Wagner himself. One thing that everyone agrees upon, even Nietzsche, Wagner’s onetime friend turned fiercest critic, is that the music, if not the message, is fantastic. This was on display Saturday at the Noblessner, which proved to be an acoustically worthy choice of venue. For these wonderful sounds we can thank the Estonian National Opera’s orchestra and its music director and conductor Arvo Volmer as well as a stellar cast of singers. As always, the orchestra played brilliantly and on-time, the famous leitmotif of "Parsifal" seamlessly melding with the opera’s action.

As far as the singing goes, the crowd favorite was Eike Wilm Schulte as the morally and physically wounded grail king Amfortas. A smallish and not young performer, his baritone vocal prowess amazed.

The heavy lifting for this "Parsifal" fell on the shoulders of the USA’s Richard Decker, Austria’s Manfred Hemm and Irmgard Vilsmaier of Germany as Parsifal, Gurnemanz and Kundry respectively. Each more than held their own in this demanding test of endurance; five plus hours including intermissions.

Robert Innes Hopkins's sets for the opera, inspired by its place of performance, were minimalist and symbolic. Act III saw a greenhouse stand in for a forest glen. This approach worked and created the atmosphere of metaphysical barrenness which is afflicting the grail knights and which Parsifal works to overcome.

Act II saw a wonderful dose of irony that Wagner probably didn’t intend in the original. A throng of gorgeous flower maidens attempt to seduce Parsifal in order to sway him from his quest. This couldn’t help bring to mind another grail story, "Monty Python’s Holy Grail", where a chaste Michael Palin is "saved" by John Cleese form the mortal danger of a convent full of amorous nuns in need of a spanking.

At Parsifal’s conclusion the world is made whole again. The evil Klingsor (a great effort from Austria’s Martin Winkler) has been vanquished in Act II. Parsifal comes home to the grail knights to release Amfortas from his suffering and assume the role of grail king in possession of the magical spear of destiny in the final act. Act III was powerful. Gurnemanz has been reduced to a hobo, the grail knights are dispirited and Parsifal appears as a kind of post-modern slob cum redeemer. But single-mindedness and the compassion of the "holy fool" win out. A story worthy of reflection. With a nod to Nabokov appropriate enough to an opera at a foundry: the evaporation of certain volatiles and the melting of certain metals are still going on in my coils and crucibles.
Mike Amundsen
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Verklärte Nacht, Schoenberg, Sinopoli

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 29 August 2011 | 8:21:00 am

Off topic but it is a Bank Holiday after all

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Watch Now: Beecham: A Play - 1990, Timothy West as Sir Thomas Beecham

I am presently listening to the rather incredible Beecham/Reiner 1937 Tristan und Isolde (Melchior/Flagstad) and doing so came across the following which I thought might be of interest.

1990 TV version of an earlier stage play about the life of conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Written by Ned Sherrin & Caryl Brahms. Written by Ned Sherrin & Caryl Brahms, with Timothy West as Beecham and Terry Wale as everyone else. Directed by Vernon Lawrence, with musical performances by the Halle Orchestra.
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Something you don't hear very often Part 1: Wagner's Polonia Overture


Part 2

Orchestra of Polish Radio: Kawalla
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DIE WALKÜRE ACT III - ROH 1937 Furtwangler, Brünnhilde-Kirsten Flagstad, Sieglinde-Maria Müller, Wotan-Rudolf Bockelmann.

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Immolation Scene (Varnay, Windgassen, Bayreuth Festival-Keilberth - Stereo 1955

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 28 August 2011 | 2:37:00 am

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A New London Ring Cycle? An interview with Ben Woodward

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday 27 August 2011 | 12:09:00 am

Ben Woodward 
Sometimes it would seem that there is a certain level of insanity in those who obsess, as many of us here can seem to do on occasion, over Wagner’s works - or at the very least that there is a certainly level of eccentricity. Go hunting for every performance recorded of Tristan? Check. A Wagner library that matches the size of one’s professional library? Check. Spend clearly ridiculous amounts of money on catching that “perfect” Wagner performance? Check.  And so it goes on.

But surely these people, and one thus assumes most of us, are nothing compared to those outside of the major opera houses who plan Wagner performances: John Christie with Glyndebourne, Wasfi Kani at Grange Park, and the Grahams at Longborough - to name a very select few in the UK. Insane or geniuses it is difficult to say but the world is surely a better place for them. And now to this list we must add the Artistic Director at Fulham Opera - Ben Woodward and the team he has assembled London

I recently had the opportunity to catch-up with Ben and discuss Fulham Operas first fully staged Das Rheingold premiering this August in the unlikely “venue” of St Johns Church Fulham (more details here). During this, Ben discussed the origins of this project in New York in 2008, the unique nature of the production, receiving advice from the Head of Music at Covent Garden, Naomi Said’s chorography, Fiona Williams’ production and much else. Perhaps more surprisingly plans for Die Walkure in 2012 and most tantalizing of all, the possibility of a complete Ring Cycle in the near future? Read on for more.

But before hearing from Ben himself exactly who is he?

Ben was born in Staffordshire, and was educated at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, and was then Organ Scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge. Immediately after Cambridge, Ben moved to New York City, and was Assistant Organist at Christ Church Greenwich, CT, and latterly Director of Music at St Mary's RC Church in Stamford, CT. Here he directed a professional choir and made several recordings including a world-premiere recording of a Mass by JD Heinichen (1683-1729), which he edited himself from source. Much reknowned as a continuo player, he is a member of the New England Baroque Soloists, with whom he was visiting professor of harpsichord at Williams College, Boston USA.

In 2007 Ben became Organist and Director of Music at St John's Church in Fulham.  Since being in Fulham he has instituted a recital series, conducted and played several operas, the Mozart Requiem and St John Passion, and two performances of Tallis's 40-voice motet, Spem in Alium for Fulham Week.

Ben Woodward/The Wagnerian

TW: Ben, you have already staged parts of Walkure and Parsifal in the past at Fulham.  These of course are massive achievements for large opera houses with accompanying resources - and now Rheingold complete and fully staged. Even Glyndebourne took nearly 80 years before it touched Wagner.  The obvious question is why?  And what is your affinity for Wagner?

BW: I've loved Wagner since I was first introduced to it at Chetham's School of Music, and it was explained at little more to me at Cambridge, but it was always something that I'd expected I would tackle much later in life. In 2008 in New York, I repetiteured and chorus-mastered Peter Grimes with tenor Jon Morrell.  I had helped Jon prepare the role and the two of us became good friends.  When I returned to the UK, it was him that suggested we put on the Walkuere Act I, as a single-act show.  Jon's long time colleague Nina Lorcini also came over to sing Sieglinde, and I asked Fiona Williams to direct it; she and I had done a Cenerentola together in 2007.  

Robert Presley
The show was a success, and a year later, Jon and Nina suggested the Parsifal Act II, as a similar stand-alone work.  Both of these shows we did with me playing the piano, and I absolutely loved playing these big colourful scores.

At Christmas at St John's, we mounted Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti, which Fiona also directed.  After that show wrapped, Robert Presley (who will sing Alberich) and I were mulling over what to do next.  Robert and I still argue about who uttered the word "Rheingold" first - I think it was him - but when it was mentioned it just seemed like a fantastic idea worth running with.

TW: What were people’s reactions when you first announced you were producing a staged version of Rheingold?

BW: It varied from "you're mad" to "okay, I can see how you might tackle that".  It is to her credit that when I mentioned it to Fiona initially, she did not miss a beat.  The church in Fulham have been extraordinarily supportive about everything that I have mounted in the past 4 years, and I am grateful to them.  They have seen incest on their altar (as in the Walkuere), a Spear being caught in mid-air (Parsifal) as well as the St John Passion and Spem in Alium, so they're quite used to my ideas for big productions!

TW: Have you had any help from other opera houses in London?

BW: This past year I've bitten a bullet and (despite being 30) have been back to "school" and have got my postgrad from the Guildhall's Opera School, and many of the coaches have been very helpful to me with musical ideas - three of them have themselves assistant-conductor-ed or repetiteured Rheingold at ROH and ENO, so they've been very helpful.  I also took it to the Head of Music at Covent Garden, who gave me some invaluable advice.

 TW: You are using the piano score.  With a full cast assembled – and a staged production – how does this change the “dynamics” of the drama, voices, etc? In other words, the overall feel of the opera?

BW: St John's Church is a very live space acoustically, and from the moment I walked in four years ago, I could tell it would be magnificent to sing into.  Though it would be geographically almost impossible to fit in an appropriate sized orchestra, it would also be overwhelming to both singers, and especially audience - the piano supports the singers perfectly well, and it feels like the audience are an integral part of it all, as they are really not very far away.

TW: As I am sure you are aware, there is always anticipation about the “concept” of new productions of the Ring. Could you tell us a little bit about Fiona Williams’ overall concept? Is this a straightforward reading of the text or will the production be more interpretive?

Fiona Williams
BW: I am (possibly obviously) loathe to give away her concept, which is really very cool, but I will say she has kept away from any similarities to (sorry) "Lord of the Rings", as it was felt that, especially given those recent Peter Jackson movies, that we'd run into all sorts of style minefields!   Our production is incredibly stylised, and Fiona has brought in the services of movement coach Naomi Said, who recently worked with her on Holland Park's production of Figaro.  

 TW: On the subject of the production, how has the “geography” of St Johns itself limited or defined the production - if at all? For example, when St Endellion performed their only semi-staged Walkure last month, they had Walkure running up and down the pews and sword fights around the font! Can we expect anything similar?

BW: I understand that St John's is a similar size to St Endellion - to give you an idea - and we have a large marble altar right in the middle of our "stage", that apparently weighs the same as two double-decker buses!  There is certainly movement through the entire space, yes!

TW:  Can we expect the entire Ring Cycle in the future?

The next things from Fulham Opera will be Suor Angelica on 7 & 9 October, and then Gianni Schicci is pencilled in for Spring. Then, yes, we are currently looking to find dates for a Walkuere, likely in July 2012.  Watch this space.  Siegfried summer 2013, Goetterdaemmerung summer 2014...??  "The Fulham Ring"...  Hope so...

Catch this very unusual production: 30th, 31st August, 2nd & 4th September. 19:30 Start

For more information visit Fulham Opera. Tickets are only 10 pound – that wouldn't buy you a couple of coffees and a cake at lunch time. How could you not go?

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Watch Now: Valery Gergiev - Lizt, Tchaikovsky & Shostakovich

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 26 August 2011 | 1:35:00 am

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Nike Wagner criticises Bayreuth's new production of Tannhäuser & prophecies the end of a Wagner clan dominated Bayreuth

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 24 August 2011 | 7:44:00 pm

In an interview in Bunte, Nike Wagner (never shy of criticising Bayreuth it must be said) criticises Bayreuth's new Tannhäuser production (but she would hardly be alone there).While she insists that  not only must one experiment with Wagner productions but one has to, she says the Baumgarten/Van Lieshout production simply does not work - with nothing fitting together. She goes as far as to suggest that the production should not be revived.

She also maintains that the type of productions being staged by Bayreuth have begun to show the weakness in a  festival being managed by the Wagner family. According to Nike, this is not what Wagner had in mind but is something of Cosima's design. The future of Bayreuth that she sees, is one without a Wagner at the helm. The dynastic principle has now shown it's weaknesses" she concluded

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Free Tickets: Berliner Philharmoniker, Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, Simon Rattle, Friday 26 August (online)

Don't say the Wagnerian never offers you anything free - well, actually I'm  not offering this just letting you know. These online concerts are normally 9 Euros. But, there are a limited number available now, free in association with Deutsche Bank. 

Details below: As normal I do not endorse any product or service, etc. And you supply your email details at own risk, etc, etc. 

On Friday 26 August, the Berliner Philharmoniker and their chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle open the 2010/2011 season with a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. This concert also marks the beginning of another season in the Digital Concert Hall – the virtual concert venue of the Berliner Philharmoniker on the Internet.

Deutsche Bank, partner of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1989 and exclusive sponsor of the Digital Concert Hall, invites you to watch and experience this concert live.

Simply go to to get your ticket, free of charge and without obligation.

The number of tickets is limited, so do it today to make sure you don’t miss out on this very special concert.

The Berliner Philharmoniker and Deutsche Bank look forward to seeing you there!

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Katharina's Meistersinger goes off for a rest, next up Tristan

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 23 August 2011 | 9:15:00 pm

K Wagner: What could she have planned for poor old Tristan and Isolde?
Not necessarily news but:

Wednesday will not only be the last performance of Katharina's Meistersinger this season but for a while. At the earliest it will be revived in 2016 - maybe.

Of course, this begs the question, what's next for the de-constructionist director? How about  Tristan und Isolde in 2015?  Don't those two have enough problems as it is? You have been warned. Papier-mâché makers get your tenders in now.

But not to worry, we at least have Frank Castorf's "postdramatic" Ring Cycle to look forward to in 2013 - the oldest "angry young man" in German theatre.

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Das Rheingold, in a Church, in Fulham? August - Sept 2011

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 22 August 2011 | 11:31:00 pm

As you may have noticed, I love opera productions - and especially Wagner productions - "off the beaten track". Don't get me wrong, the MET, La Scala, ROH, ENO, Bayreuth, etc, etc, are all fun (and I wouldn't be without them) but some of the most interesting "Wagner nights" have been in places you would least expect and this year has provided some fine ones. LFO, Grange Park and most unusual off all Walkure at St Endellion - a church in Cornwall. Now, to be honest, I thought St Endellion would beat everything - in the unusual location stakes - but just when you think you have heard everything - Rheingold in a Church in Fulham? With a young cast? With the orchestra replaced with the piano score?    This looks like one of those productions it might simply be silly to miss - especially at ten pound a ticket. What's  to lose?. If your in London at the time...

Now, I have to say this nearly flew below my relatively acute Wagner radar and so I have only just contacted the organisers to get more information. However, given that the première is only a few weeks away, I thought I would provide you as much information as I could find - more when I get it.


Fulham Opera

As they describe themselfs: "Fulham Opera is West London's Premier Independent Opera Company. Affiliated with Music@theHeartofFulham, we exist to produce great opera in a fantastic space."

Artistic Director is Ben Woodward. Since becoming artistic director he has instituted a recital series, conducted and played several operas - includeing Act 2 of Parsifal in 2010 - the Mozart Requiem and St John Passion, and two performances of Tallis's 40-voice motet, Spem in Alium for Fulham Week.


Woglinde: - Zoë South
Wellgunde: - Elizabeth Capener
Flosshilde: - Sara Gonzalez
Alberich: - Robert Presley
Fricka: - Liz Russo
Wotan: - Ian Wilson-Pope
Freia: - Elizabeth Capener
Fasolt: - Peter Brooke (30th & 31st Aug) Oliver Hunt (2nd & 4th Sept)
Fafner: - John Woods
Froh: - Stuart Laing
Donner: - Stephen Svanholm
Loge: - Brian Smith-Walters
Mime: - Ian Massa-Harris
Erda: - Sara Gonzalez

Stage Director:Fiona Williams

Musical Director:Benjamin Woodward


30th, 31st August,  2nd & 4th September. 19:30 Start

More Info: Fullham Opera 
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Watch Free: Glyndebourne The Turn of the Screw - 6:00pm 21/08/11 and then "On Demand"

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 21 August 2011 | 5:29:00 pm

Off topic but: For those who are living in a bunker  - The Turn of the Screw live stream from  Glyndebourne starts at 6:00 pm

Click here to watch and for more information: The Turn of the Screw

And if you miss it today? Not to worry, you can catch from midday on Monday 22 August until 9am on 12 September 2012 at the Guardian. Click here
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The Wagnerian Weekly: 21/08/11 - Does Klaus Florian Vogt sing in the shower?

Vogt: Does he sing in the shower?
As normal, there is much in this that is not covered here on the site. This week includes:

The MET asks that the 15 year old "Met Futures" Blog is closed down

The Wagnerian provides a Wagner related guide to the Gramophone Music Awards 2011

A review of Jaap van Zweden new Parsifal release

Advice on how to find cheap opera tickets in the UK

A rather puerile interview with Klaus Florian Vogt, including such revealing questions as "Do you sing in the shower?"

Simon Callow says opera has never been more alive

James Levine undergoes further surgery

And much, much more.

Read it all here and for free: The Wagnerian Weekly

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Ruhr Triennale: Tristan und Isolde (New Production) August - Sept 2011

Willy Decker
Willy Decker's last year as Director sees his new production of Tristan und Isolde. Given, as you no doubt are already aware, his three years have seen the festival concentrate on the theme of  Urmomente (Primal moments)  Tristan would seem the perfect opera  to complete such a theme.


Tristan - Christian Franz
Christian Franz & Susan Owen: Siegfrid live recoding

Isolde - Anja Kampe

König Marke - Stephen Milling

Kurwenal - Alexander Marco-Buhrmester

Melot - Boris Grappe

Ein Hirt - Thomas Ebenstein

Ein Steuermann - Martin Gerke

Ein Junger Seemann - Thomas Ebenstein

Conductor: - Kirill Petrenko

Director: - Willy Decker

Set Designs: - Wolfgang Gussmann

Costumes: - Wolfgang Gussmann

Lighting: - Andreas Grüter


27, 31 August, 3, 9, 13, 17, 20 September 2011 (Start 6:30 pm)

Info and Booking at festival website:
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Das Rheingold: An analysis in notes, pictures and sound (full recording plus vocal score plus

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 19 August 2011 | 4:10:00 pm

This is wonderful. Found on youtube. A full analysis of the leitmotifs plus a vocal score. Pop to youtube and rate it if you like it. Perhaps the author might do the same for the rest of the Rng?

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Watch Live: Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra - Bruckner 5 and Mozart "Haffner"

Watch Live tonight and on-demand for 30 days there after - free (Starts 18: 30. Press player/image below and countdown timer/play button will display.

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Watch: Der Ring des Nibelungen for children (complete) Mariinsky Opera

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 17 August 2011 | 12:14:00 am

This is wonderful - really! If you have children, or grandchildren, sit and watch this with them. Made freely available by Mariinsky Opera on their website. Recorded March this year  I think. Alas, no subtitles - but who needs them. Youtube trailer first to see if you might like to watch and then below the full performance. I am becoming something of a fan of Mariinsky it must be said. Please share. And it's for children - don't be to critical


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Siegfried, The Met, Oct 2011, Overview and documentary of Siegfried's "3d" effects

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 16 August 2011 | 6:28:00 pm

Nothing really new but the première will soon be upon us and I thought it was time to up the details

Lepage, discusses Siegfried plus 3d effects "teaser":


Conductor: James Levine
Brünnhilde: Deborah Voigt
Erda: Patricia Bardon
Siegfried: Gary Lehman
Mime: Gerhard Siegel
Wanderer: Bryn Terfel
Alberich: Eric Owens

Dates: (Sold out)

Thursday, October 27, 2011, 6:00 pm

Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 6:00 pm

Saturday, November 5, 2011, 12:00 pm

Saturday 5 November will be the MET in HD performance in a cinema (hopefully) near you. See below for details:

Siegfried in HD  click below for details

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The Wagnerian's guide to the Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2011 - Wagner "related" entries only

Yes, it's that time again - Gramphone have announced this years shortlist. Ok, so there isn't any Wagner in the opera category and in one or two places I am having to stretch the definition of "Wagner related" but to save you having to go through the entire thing,  I present you with the following selection of Wagner related nominations in this years short list: (the full list can be found here). I include samples - where I could find them. If I  have missed anything, I am sure someone will let me know

DVD Documentary

At least Wagner is well presented here, with two Carlos Kleiber documentaries (his Tristan is still sitting on my turntable)

*Carlos Kleiber: Traces to Nowhere
A film by Eric Schultz Arthaus 101553

*Carlos Kleiber: I am lost to the world
A film by Georg Wübbolt C Major 705608

Carlos Kleiber: Tristan Prelude (live July 25, 1972, Stuttgart)

And also nominated is Tony Palmer's:

The Wagner Family A film by Tony Palmer Tony Palmer Films TPDVD172


It may be stretching the definition a bit but I feel we can include both:

R Strauss Great Strauss Scenes
Christine Brewer; Eric Owens; Atlanta SO / Donald Runnicles Telarc TEL3175502

*Verismo Arias Various
Jonas Kaufmann; Chorus and Orchestra of the Santa Cecilia Academy, Rome / Antonio Pappano Decca Classics 4782258

Solo vocal
Ok, so really stretching things here:

R Strauss Lieder
Diana Damrau; Münchner PO / Christian Thielemann Virgin Classics 6286640

Diana Damrau: Strauss - Lied der Frauen

DVD Performance

Franck Symphony Wagner. Fauré Orchestral works
Charles Munch ICA Archives ICAD5015


Not really that Wagner related but this disc has him performing the Magic Flute, the Don and Strauss and it is, after all, Fritz Wunderlich!

Live on Stage Various
Fritz Wunderlich Deutsche Grammophon 4779109

Fritz Wunderlich Recital: Mozart-Zauberfloete Tamino's Aria


Alas, no Wagner but on a related theme (kind of):

*Mozart Die Zauberflöte
Soloists, RIAS Kammerchor; Akademie für Alte Musik / René Jacobs Harmonia Mundi HMC902068/70

R Strauss Ariadne Auf Naxos (in English)
Soloists; Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Armstrong Chandos CHAN3168(2)

And finally: Gramophone Artist of the Year 2011 - the one you can vote for. Of the many fine artists here I think of particular interest to us are:

Iván Fischer

Andris Nelsons

Jonas Kaufmann

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Vote for your "favourite" here

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Wagner on opera directors, conductors and artists

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 15 August 2011 | 6:35:00 am

With Bayeuth's new "season" near completion there has been much discussion about opera productions -especially productions of Wagner's operas. When discussing the productions of agents provocateurs especially, a recurrent theme or phrase heard is, "Yes, but Wagner was an innovator and would have enjoyed and applauded many of these productions." . While there is little argument that Wagner was an innovator - and may well have done things differently in this century - "narrative cohesion" seemed always to remain important to him (there is a strong argument after all that this is central to his work). Also, another part of this discussion is that "audiences get the productions they deserve". With both thoughts in mind, I thought  this discussion of a  recently attended production of "The Magic Flute"  between "R", Cosima and others in 1872 might be of interest:

"In the evening Die Zauberflote - appalling. Not a singer of talent, a stupid conductor and the stamp of vulgarity on everything - here it is the opulent broker who sets the tone. When R talks to people about this they say the audience is such an such. "Don't talk to me about audiences" R replies "That is a world one does not criticise, but accepts just as it is; the fault lies entirely with the artists - they can seize an audience purely for the entertainment and raise it up. An audience does at least show a lively interest in everything; if a few people turn head over heels, it does at any rate laugh, which means it is better than these pygmies of conductors and producers, who don't know that when the Queen of the Night appears, it must be night on the stage - one must put out the lights. Just as in the church - when things are done properly, as they seldom are - a soul finds refuge from the petty pressures of its own miseries, so in the theatre the audience is raised up by the means of its desire to enjoy itself." Sunday December 1 1872

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Watch Now: Cosi fan tutte Opera de Lyon 2011

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 14 August 2011 | 4:47:00 pm

Don't fancy paying 15 Euros for a Lohengrin with Mice? But still have an opera itch that needs scratching? How about another Cosi at the seaside - free?

Lionel Lhote : Don Alfonso Daniel Behle : FerrandoVito Priante : Guglielmo Maria Bengtsson : Fiordiligi Tove Dahlberg : Dorabella Elena Galitskaya : Despina Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra de Lyon

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Bayreuth Stage Productions: "Yet in some respects this audience gets what it deserves"

"Yet in some respects this audience gets what it deserves. They (we) are a strikingly complicit bunch of fatcats. They watch themselves and their prosperity being viciously satirised; they witness every value they hold dear being perverted; they hear some of their finest masterpieces being used as a vehicle for guilt-ridden dissociation from their past and their present: and they cheer."
"The denial of sensual charm is in fact a recurrent phenomenon of these stagings. Wherever the drama requires beauty or splendour, ugliness and degradation are the predictable response: Venus (in Tannhäuser) as a fat, pregnant housewife in silver lamé, her naiads as hairy Neanderthals with bare bottoms"
"As for the solo castings, one is mildly conscious that this is not where the (heavily subsidised) big money is being spent....A number of singers struggled to cope with the huge stage and auditorium, even with the orchestra canopied, which, for top Wagnerians, has usually solved the problem of balance. In many opera houses, some of these voices would scarcely be heard at all"

Stephen Walsh over at "The Arts Desk" discusses the "New", New Bayreuth style.

theartsdesk in Bayreuth: Wagner in the Laboratory

Richard Wagner has probably only himself to blame if his operas have become a laboratory for the testing-to-destruction of the intellectual preoccupations of that Opera-Führer of our time, the stage director. Wagner it was, after all, who transferred the mythic concept of concealed meaning to the opera house: Wagner who recreated legend as psycho-social allegory, and made musical narrative the handmaiden of philosophy and political ideology. What he would have thought of the latest manifestation of these processes in the staging of his works in the opera house he built at Bayreuth is a good question.

Not much, I should like to think – but I’m by no means entirely confident. Some case studies from the 2011 festival. In Hans Neuenfels’s production of Lohengrin(the tale of a young girl wrongly accused of murdering her brother, who marries her champion but fails the test of not asking his identity), the Brabantian and Saxon nobles, ladies etc. are mainly presented as a chorus-line of black, white, pink and yellow rats, because – Neuenfels explains – it’s necessary to disrupt the smooth heraldic surface of the medieval setting with something that “outdoes the bizarre.”
'The minute you enter a theatre in Germany the past starts buzzing round you like an angry hornet'

In Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Katharina Wagner, the composer’s great-granddaughter and now co-director of the festival, portrays the Masters in the final act procession as a line-up of hideously masked German geniuses (including Wagner himself) in boxing shorts and with exposed erect penises.

In Act II of Tristan und Isolde, on the other hand, the erotic lovers are the sort of tidy middle-aged couple you might meet on an American tour-bus, and their nocturnal love-play is conducted on a pair of yellow stools in what looks (and feels) like a well-lit Soviet sports hall (the lovers pictured left by Enrico Nawrath).

The Minstrels' Hall inTannhäuser is reimagined by Sebastian Baumgarten as a biogas recycling plant alias (of course) an extermination camp, and Venus – doing her own bit of recycling – pops up at the end with a nice middle-class baby.

Finally Parsifal, Wagner’s complex allegory of Christian suffering and redemption, is used by Stefan Herheim as a platform for a broad re-enacting of German history over the last 100 years, interwoven with the story of Bayreuth itself and coloured in with some lurid speculations about Parsifal’s relationship with his mother and Kundry’s relationship with pretty well everyone. There’s an uncanonical baby here, too; we (perhaps) witness its conception, attend its birth and observe its abduction (by Kundry in the unexpected guise of a housemaid). But exactly why it’s there at all remains something of a mystery.

One has to keep reminding oneself, through all these fantasies, that Wagner was also the apostle of the intimate relationship between music and text: that the idea of the integrated art-work lay at the heart of the revolution he saw himself as carrying through in opera. As Patrick Carnegy pointed out in his Wagner and the Art of the Theatre, this needn’t be taken to mean that he would have been hostile (as his widow, Cosima, certainly was) to any new ideas as to how his works might be staged after his death.

But one would like to feel that he would have jibbed at this wholesale deconstruction of his plots, even if – as far as I can judge – Bayreuth continues to perform his music and (with the odd exception) his words in exemplary fashion. In fact, the authenticity of what one hears if anything draws attention to the perversity of what one sees. I’ll come back to the quality of what one hears a little later. I suspect there’s a connection here, but it’s a pragmatic rather than a philosophical one.
'The Wagners are like the drop-out heir to a stately home who justifies keeping it by converting it into a drug dependency unit'

One can go on about Director’s Theatre, but Bayreuth is a very special case. You can travel around in Germany and not be aware of anything particularly odd about its past. But the minute you enter a theatre the past starts buzzing round you like an angry hornet. This will be Germany’s past. But at Bayreuth, Germany’s past is hopelessly entangled with its own. No need to dwell on all this: Winifred Wagner’s involvement with Hitler, the implications this had for the works themselves, the post-war recriminations, the interminable Wolfgang Wagner régime, the family battles over his successor.

These battles, I suppose, are still going on. They’re reflected, surely, in the flailing, sophomoric imagery of the 33-year-old Katharina’s Meistersinger (Act 3 pictured above right by Enrico Nawrath) and in the fact that, as is rumoured, she has subsequently been under pressure to restrict herself to managerial activities. But every one of these productions reflects, in one way or another, the seemingly unassuageable Bayreuth angst. In a nutshell, the past has not gone away, perhaps will never go away, and must be eternally and unconditionally fought.

Yet for a house dedicated to the perpetuation of a single composer’s works, this is an impossible, self-contradictory proposition. The Wagners are like the drop-out heir to a stately home who justifies keeping it by converting it into a drug dependency unit and letting the park off for raves.

Continue Reading at theartsdesk
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New Release: Janowski, Der Fliegende Holländer

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 12 August 2011 | 11:26:00 pm

I happen to be one of those people that thinks Janowski's 80's studio recording of the Ring Cycle is one of the better on record and so Pentatone's release of the first of his 10 part Wagner cycle is somewhat pleasing. Although the CD/SACD will not be available until the end of August, if you so wish, you can pick  this up as a digital download from any of your favourite on-line retailers (who can also give you previews to help decide if  this is another of the many Dutchmen recordings out there you might want to own). Recorded at a concert performance in  2010. Full details below.

I have found only one review so far but there will be more if you look around I am sure (Review)

Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer

Matti Salminen
Ricarda Merbeth
Robert Dean Smith
Silvia Hablowetz
Steve Davislim
Albert Dohmen
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Marek Janowski (conductor)

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An Introduction To Tristan und Isolde

Regular readers may have noticed that we like Tristan und Isolde - just a little. Frequent visitors may have also read and listened to the feature "Sex and the Married Wagnerian" which featured two parts of WNYC's 2007 documentry series The Tristan Mysteries. Well, below is part one, which discusses and introduces Tristan. We believe the way, WNYC's podcasts work, it may also continue to play the rest also. Have fun and when its finished pop on Furtwangler's classic recording. It is now copyright free so you should be able to pick-up a copy for a "song"

Love it or hate it (and there are plenty of people on both sides), Wagner's Tristan und Isolde has generated heat since bursting onto the stage in 1865. In this installment of The Tristan Mysteries, Amy O'Leary gives us an introductory overview of Wagner's opera—and examines the mythic side of Tristan's timeless story. We also assemble a roundtable of opera enthusiasts in the studio to duke it out over which recording of Tristan is the best.

Contributors to The Mythic Mystery include:
Perry Lorenzo, Education Director, Seattle Opera
John Rockwell, Author & Critic
Ben Heppner, Wagnerian Tenor
Cori Ellison, Dramaturg, New York City Opera
Peter Sellars, Director, The Tristan Project

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Press release:

Welsh National Opera is offering more this autumn with its WNO Extra* series.

Members of the public will have the chance to meet the cast, singers, hear about the stories behind the music, take part in workshops and learn more about our work from industry experts.

The Whole Story – Join Dewi Savage, singers Gail Pearson and Dyfed-Wyn Evans, and pianist David Seaman for a two-hour exploration of Don Giovanni, The Barber of Seville andKatya Kabanova. This ticketed event is a chance to learn more about the background of the operas, the music and libretto before seeing the productions. Tickets are £8.

Post-Show Discussion – this is a chance to share feelings and thoughts about our performances of Katya Kabanova. This free event will be hosted by a Company member of WNO.

In Depth - The exploration continues at Wales Millennium Centre with Doctor Francesco Izzo from Southampton University who will be giving an insight into The Barber of Seville. Dr Izzo will be giving a detailed insight into Rossini’s comic opera on Saturday 1st October. Tickets for this event are £5.

Family Workshop – this is a chance to see singers, their costumes and props up close with a fun exploration of the story and music of The Barber of Seville. Suitable for all ages, tickets for this one and a half hour session are £3 for Adults and £2 for children.

Come & Sing – does exactly what it says on the tin. Anyone with a passion for music, whatever their ability, can come along and learn how to sing opera. Join WNO’s Chorus Master Stephen Harris in a two hour singing workshop at Wales Millennium Centre and learn choral extracts. This session start at 7pm on Tuesday 27 September. Tickets cost £3.

Audio Described Performances – Expert audio describers will be commentating on some performances of Don Giovanni using infra-red headsets during the show for blind and partially sighted patrons. Those taking part will also be able to attend a pre-performance touch tour on the set where they will be able to get close to some of the props and costumes.

*Not all events are available at all venues
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Daniel Barenboim: First a Knighthood now the Nobel Peace Prize?

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday 11 August 2011 | 8:57:00 pm

Source AFP

Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim will be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for using music to bring peace to the Middle East, supporters announced Wednesday.

An official announcement about the 69-year-old musician's nomination will take place on August 17 at the Academia Argentina de Letras language academy in Buenos Aires.

Around 2,500 people in Argentina have expressed their support for the nomination.

Former president of Uruguay Julio Maria Sanguinetti and writer Juan Jose Sebreli were among those promoting the nomination.

Along with his friend, late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, Barenboim brought together young Arabs, Israelis and Iranians to form an orchestra in 1999, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which tours the world.

"Music cannot solve conflicts but music has the ability to make people interested and passionate about the same thing," Barenboim said Tuesday before his orchestra performed a concert in South Korea.

Since 1992, Barenboim has been a conductor at the Staatsoper in Berlin, one of three opera houses in the German capital.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1942 to Jewish parents of Russian origin, the musician uses his international fame to promote peace between Israel and its neighbors, especially the Palestinians.

Barenboim also has Spanish citizenship and a Palestinian passport
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Exclusive: Longborough Opera, A Siegfried in Pictures - 2011

A few months ago, I  brought you a picture feature of the SF Ring Cycle. At the time this rather "old fashioned" picture feature proved very popular. With that in mind, I felt it would be a good idea to the same but with just one opera; Longborough Festival Opera's Siegfried of this year. Of course, it is too late to go and see it now  but, as they will present the full Ring Cycle in 2013, it will provide some idea of what to expect  - and what you have missed. And of course next year is Brunnhilde's year at Longborough.

As always, I include some music samples (alas not of LFO's Siegfried) and also an audio documentary on the "insanity" of those that follow Ring performances.

All images produced, and  copyright to,  Wells Photography. And much thanks to Matthew Williams-Ellis and LFO for allowing their use here. Indeed, if you get the chance you might want to check out Matthew's website here.  He has images of a number of Wagner operas (and others) that you might find of interest and some really wondeful images of Anthony Negus conducting the LSO orchestra.

Warning. By it's nature this is VERY media rich and may take a time to load on old computers/slow connections. You have been warned.
The Ring And I

Act One: Mime's Cave

Vorspiel and Mimi

Mime "Zwangvolle Plage!Müh' ohne Zweck!"

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Wagner Transcriptions Volume 4: Die Meistersinger

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 10 August 2011 | 6:03:00 pm

This is from the press release. I have not listened to  it yet so can't comment, although will try to shortly. Release Date: 30/08/11

Faust Overture, WWV59
Christoph Columbus: Overture
Die Meistersinger - an Orchestral Tribute
Entreactes tragiques Nos 1 and 2

Neeme Järvi conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the fourth album of their Wagner series.

Their performances on the previous three volumes have received high critical acclaim. American Record Guide wrote of Volume 1: ‘This is wonderful playing and sound… Järvi knows exactly what to do to make the music speak. The orchestra sounds better than I’ve ever heard them.’

This disc features a symphonic arrangement by the Dutch composer and percussionist Henk de Vlieger of Wagner’s only comic opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It is the only opera by Wagner centred round a specific time and place in history, rather than a mythical or legendary past. The story takes place in Nuremberg during the middle of the sixteenth century, and revolves around the real-life guild of the Master Singers, an association of amateur poets and musicians who developed a craftsman-like approach to music-making.

Wagner left the two early Entreactes tragiques unfinished, the first only partially orchestrated, and they are heard here in orchestrations completed by De Vlieger.

Completing the disc are the seldom performed and recorded Overture to Columbus, and Eine Faust-Ouvertüre by Wagner. Written in 1835, when Wagner was just twenty-two years old, the Weber-influenced Columbus Overture introduces the play by Theodor Apel. His Faust-Overture followed in 1840. Taking its inspiration from Goethe’s famous play, this work, together with Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, became the main example of nineteenth-century programme music.
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Valery Gergiev says the Mariinsky Theatre's 2nd stage WILL be ready by 2013

For those that have no idea what this is about a little background stolen from  Wiki:

The Mariinsky Theater Second Stage is a planned second part of a theatre complex which will be made up of the original 1860 Mariinsky Theatre and the 2007 Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall. The Second Stage is currently under construction and is being financed by the federal budget. Throughout construction, which began in 2003, various changes have had to be made and this has led to an increase in expenses.

The post-modernist French architect Dominique Perrault won a much-publicised contest for his design for a new home for the theatre, which is to be located adjacent to the current building. At the same time, the historic original structure had been due to undergo a complete renovation and this was planned to begin in the Autumn 2006.

After seeing projected costs rise to $244 million (U.S.) from $100 million, the Russian government announced in November 2008 that it was killing the Perrault plan. The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin overruled both Valery Gergiev (the artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre) and the Minister for Culture, announcing in early June 2009 that there would be a new competition to solicit proposals. 15 proposals were received, a list which was then shortened to five. "We wanted to give the impression that although we were in a tense situation and we didn't want to delay forever ... no one felt like it was the best way to simply sit down quietly and say, 'You are a great architect; just come and do it,'" Mr. Gergiev explained.

With a budget of €295-million (about US $452-million), all of which will be paid by the Russian government with a completion date of no later than December 2011, the Canadian firm, Diamond and Schmitt Architects, prevailed over four other finalists, one of which came from Germany and three from Russia. The building has been hyped as "Russia's most important building project in 70 years". As noted by Mr. Diamond, (it is) "the first major opera house to be built in Russia since the Czars.

By Galina Stolyarova

The St. Petersburg TimesMariinsky Theater artistic director Valery Gergiev dismissed rumors that the opening of the theater’s second stage would be delayed until 2015 at a news conference last week.

Responding to media speculation that the new venue, which is currently due to open in a year’s time, will not open its doors to spectators until 2013 or even 2015, Gergiev said that although the deadline for the end of the construction is currently being finalized, the maestro will personally make sure that no procrastination occurs.

Mariinsky Theatre: second stage construction
“Do not believe the nonsense about the 2015 deadline; work is in full swing and we are keeping a close eye on the construction process to ensure that nobody works half-heartedly,” Gergiev said.

“The troupe needs the new stage like every living creature needs oxygen. It is shameful that in the 21st century, the Mariinsky Theater has to close for at least five days to mount the sets for Andrei Konchalovsky’s staging of Prokofiev’s opera ‘War and Peace’.”

The Mariinsky’s 228th season ended in July with soul-searching and experimenting, in the form of a premiere of Claudia Solti’s mesmerizing take on Britten’s opera “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“We had a most productive season, with more than 500 performances both on home soil and abroad,” Gergiev told reporters at the news conference.

“At this stage, it is crucially important for the company to try new artistic ground and be involved in experiments that offer both the company and audiences daring new angles. That is why we have chosen to work with directors such as Daniele Finzi Pasca, whose productions for Cirque du Soleil have gained international recognition, and Claudia Solti, who has an extensive background in filmmaking.

“Finzi Pasca, who staged Verdi’s ‘Aida’ for the Mariinsky Theater Concert Hall, is renowned for his unique way of communicating with audiences, regardless of their cultural background or country of origin, and we very much hope that his production will become a bestselling hit,” Gergiev added.

The theater’s next season opens on Sept. 26 with Finzi Pasca’s “Aida.” The next day will see a concert by the eminent pianist Denis Matsuev alongside the Urals Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Gergiev at the Mariinsky Concert Hall.

Opera premieres to look out for in the coming season include the musical “My Fair Lady” by Loewe, originally produced by Robert Carson for the Theatre de Chatelet in Paris, and Graham Vick’s take on Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” (a joint project with the Baden-Baden Opera Theater). Another operatic treat looks set to be Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” which will be staged by Daniel Kramer, who was responsible for the production of Bartok’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” for the Mariinsky last year.

In June, St. Petersburg co-hosted the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition for the first time in the history of the contest, which until now had only been held in Moscow. In the new season, the Mariinsky Concert Hall will organize a series of concerts by the competition’s winners and finalists, especially by pianists and cellists, who competed in Moscow and could not therefore be heard by local audiences.
Gergiev: "I'm Watching you"

Ahead of the start of the new season, the company’s opera and ballet companies and its orchestra have embarked on extensive tours abroad. Upcoming engagements include performances at the Rotterdam International Festival on Sept 8 and 9 of two operas — Wagner’s “Parsifal” and Berlioz’s “Les Troyens” — after which the company will appear at the International Music Festival in Bucharest on Sept. 11 and 12.

In the meantime, the Mariinsky ballet troupe is heading to Brazil for a tour from the end of August through the first half of September, before the dancers move on to perform in Singapore and Bangkok from Sept. 16.

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