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Review: Estonian National Opera Premiere: Tannhauser

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday 21 March 2013 | 4:06:00 am

Kindly provided by Michael Amundsen at Tallinn Arts


It’s a big year for Wagner aficionados. The bicentenary of the birth of the “genius of Bayreuth” means a plethora of productions worldwide, featuring Teutonic troubles in misty realms. Wagner’s music is undeniably sublime, but are the moral sentiments of his works relevant to contemporary life? The Estonian National Opera and English stage director Daniel Slater took up this question with the premier of “Tannhauser” on March 14.

For Slater, this meant ditching period costumes and medieval backdrops and presenting the problems of modern romantic love. Slater’s conception of “Tannhauser” required soprano Heli Veskus to perform the roles of both Venus and Elisabeth, the dual love interests for the opera’s eponymous hero performed with the right measure of insolence and indifferent fatalism by Mati Turi. The opera’s dramatic tension arises from Tannhauser’s confused needs, his lust expressed for Venus while in her lair at Venusberg and his failed romance with Elisabeth, the landgrave’s daughter at the castle of Wartburg, who loves him despite himself. Wartberg is home of the minnesingers, romantic bards who sing songs of love.

The staging for this production is intriguing because neither the world of Venusberg or Wartburg are particularly appealing options for Tannhauser. One is a ceaseless parade of erotic illusions, skillfully and humorously evoked as tropes of the modern male’s pornographic fantasies. The other is a realm of cruel Philistines who have clearly never encountered fun. All things being equal, Venusberg seemed the better option, which I doubt was Wagner’s intended message.

To emphasize the monotony of life at Wartburg all, men and women, are dressed in black business suits and the settings are sterile white and silver backdrops which rotate between scenes. The drabness highlights the static milieu of the place, a Nietzschean “eternal return” of narrowly lived virtue.

“Tannhauser” has probably seen more different interpretations than any of Wagner’s operas. The composer himself produced four and was contemplating a fifth at the time of his death. The one constant is the music which is beautiful, and some of which is famous. The overture would be recognized by fans of the classical genre as a standalone piece in programs of symphonic music.

There were some wonderful musical moments in this production. Choral and ensemble singing, both on and off stage, was haunting and majestic and reinforced the story’s spiritual message. In Act III baritone Rauno Elp, as Wolfram von Eschenbach, sung the aria “Song to the evening star” with transcendent emotion and beautiful timbre. It was a good night too for bass Pavlo Balakin, who has tended to have smaller roles in Estonian National Opera productions. His turn as Herman was strong, and Balakin has the commanding stage presence and singing prowess for leading roles.

The music for this “Tannhauser” was the night’s champion. The Estonian National Opera Orchestra led by conductor Vello Pahn, performed magnificently, bringing out all of the magic of Wagner’s score. By all means, beautifully done for a first try.

More at Tallinn Arts
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Video Lecture: John Deathridge "Living with Wagner"

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 15 March 2013 | 1:31:00 am

Part of Wagner World Wide 2013. If you have not we really do recommend his "Wagner: Beyond Good And Evil"

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ROH Parsifal: Dates confirmed. Pape, Finley, Denoke, White

As we noted about a year ago, the ROH have finally confirmed dates and cast for this years new production of Parsifal  - in a 2013-14 season otherwise lacking any other  Wagner. Full details below. Will be included in the ROH cinema relays. Only art work at present seems to consist of a box or it might be a semi transparent fridge - we are somewhat unsure. But it is in the middle of some vegetation  - so there's a start.
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LNOBT April 2013. Tristan, Walkure, Lohengrin & Zambello's Dutchman

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday 14 March 2013 | 11:21:00 pm

To celebrate Wagner 2013 LNOBT are staging a series of Wagner and Wagner related works over one week in April. Full details below including director comments and   images. 

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'Blue Tulips: A love story' A new and very different Wagner-related book

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 10 March 2013 | 2:32:00 pm

We received the following recently and thought it might be of interest.

A book about and for Wagner lovers, for art lovers ...  actually for all lovers 

People who write books about Wagner's music are usually musicologists or historians, but a book has appeared on the market from a very different vantage point. Australian author Elizabeth Gordon has published an intimate, funny and ultimately brave autobiographical account about Wagner's music and its impact on her life.

Elizabeth Gordon is an artist (and scientist) and although much of her artwork is inspired by music she reacts as a listener, not musicologist. She writes with verve and humour, weaving her account about the effect Wagner's music is having on her life into an autobiography that is passionate, funny and moving. If you have ever tried to find a book for a friend who has not yet discovered Wagner's music, this is the one to buy as it tells the stories behind the music at the same time as describing their effect. 
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EGO3D produce bust of most irritated Wagner ever?

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 8 March 2013 | 5:52:00 pm

We wouldn't normally but he just looks so "annoyed" at something in this bust. Had Cosima burnt the dinner or something? Perhaps it is water retention? Answers on a postcard please to: Twitter @thewagnerian

Available from EGO3D

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Wagner and Bad-Lauchstädt

The house in which Wagner stayed and met his first wife, Minna Planer
Bad-Lauchstädt, a small town in Saxony-Anhalt, was a place of inspiration for Richard Wagner. Yet the link to one of the world's greatest composers is something hardly anyone knows about that these days.

Richard Wagner wanted to pack up his things and leave. It wasn't because in a mere two days he was set to conduct a production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" without the luxury of a single rehearsal. Rather, it was the director of the Magdeburg Theater Company, Heinrich Bethmann, whom Richard Wagner found so off-putting. The director was unshaven, had a fondness for alchohol and had little regard for the social graces of the day. Wagner himself had, as he later wrote, "hit rock bottom."

It was at the end of July 1834 that Bethmann and his company found themselves in Bad-Lauchstädt and in desperate need of a new musical director. The job was offered to the then 21-year-old Wagner, an up-and-coming musical figure who had already grabbed attention with a series of powerful performances of his own compositions. Wagner, at that time without any fixed engagements, accepted the job at once, jumped into the next stagecoach bound for Bad-Lauchstädt…and was met with only disappointments. He intended to stay for one night and leave the very next day.

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Nederlandse Opera Ring Cycle Released On DVD

If Opus Arte ever managed to get its website working (now down for about 6 months with  a simple place holder only)  we would provide you with the usual full details.

As an aside, and while on this subject, the attitude of many, but thankfully not all,   providers of  classical music - and opera in particular - continues to leave us flabbergasted. The fact that Opus Arte's website has now been down for months is a symptom of this. No other part of the "entertainment industry" (which whether it would like to admit it or not opera is) would be so downright "lacklustre"  either in its general marketing or the face it presents to the general public. Imagine for example a film distributor - which Opus is in the classical music DVD field - such as Warner's or 20th Century doing the same? If the public has grown used to this it is rather sad, however, if artists have - whose livelihoods rely on companies like Opus Art marketing and distributing their work  to the widest potential audience -  have grown accustomed to it, it is not only a sad indication of the state of the industry but  has a direct impact on their "earning potential" and their ability to reach new audiences.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. As the distributor seems unable we will reprint the press release below. Have a read, then a look at the video and you may even decide to feed some starving member of the Chorus or Orchestra.

 De Nederlandse Opera
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
(Götterdämmerung & Die Walküre)
The Hague Philharmonic (Das Rheingold)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (Siegfried)
Conductor: Hartmut Haenchen
Director: Pierre Audi

Running time: 16 hours 48 minutes approx
Subtitles: EN/FR/GE/SP/IT/NE/JA
Sound format: 2.0LPCM + 5.1(5.0) DTS

This 1999 production of The Ring was the first to be based on the definitive complete edition of Wagner’s music. Pierre Audi’s production for the etherlands Opera blends the lyrical, mythical and philosophical qualities of Wagner’s tetralogy into a profound unity. Amazing sets by George Tsypin and wonderful costumes by Oscar-winning Eiko Ishioka complement singing and playing of great intensity from the cast under the baton of Hartmut Haenchen, who leads an unusually flowing, texturally sensitive interpretation, creating a vigorous yet often intimate impression that comes closer than many modern performances to the scale of Wagner’s original conception.

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Melbourne scrambles to save Orchestra Victoria from the pit of despair with Wagner

THE deep E-flat that sounds the beginning of Der Ring des Nibelungen will be played in Melbourne in November not by Orchestra Victoria but by a special ensemble called the Melbourne Ring Orchestra.

In all but name, the two orchestras are the same. Orchestra Victoria is Opera Australia's pit orchestra in Melbourne and plays for all its performances there.

For the larger forces required for Wagner's magnum opus, OV will hire extra players from other orchestras as well as freelance musicians. Other small orchestras would have to do the same.

However, for reasons apparently to do with marketing the Ring as a Melbourne event, Orchestra Victoria is to play under another name. The misnomer may be a small matter in the scheme of things but it is emblematic of the larger problems that beset Melbourne's second orchestra.

Orchestra Victoria has had three names in 30 years. Because it plays in the pit and under the marquees of Opera Australia, Victorian Opera and the Australian Ballet, it does most of its performances out of view, although it has worked hard to make a name for itself with concerts, regional tours and education programs.

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Washington National Opera: 2013-14 season to feature Tristan with Voigt & Storey

The 2013-2014 season of Washington National Opera (WNO) has just been announced by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. The season includes Tristan and Isolde, a new production of The Force of Destiny, the East Coast premiere of Moby-Dick, The Elixir of Love, and a new production of The Magic Flute. WNO will also present the world premiere of The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me, a holiday-themed family opera commissioned by WNO and written by acclaimed American composer Jeanine Tesori. A second season of the American Opera Initiative will continue WNO's efforts to commission new American works.

In partnership with the Washington Nationals, WNO will present a free Opera in the Outfield simulcast of The Magic Flute to Nationals Park in May 2014. New pre-show events before every performance in the Opera house will expand the WNO experience and help educate new audiences. Highlights from the 2013-2014 season will be performed by the WNO Orchestra and special guests at a free preview concert on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 6 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

"I'm excited to bring you my first season as Artistic Director, in which I have been able to bring together and create so much of the casting and programming," said Ms. Zambello. "You'll begin to discover many developments designed to make Washington National Opera broaden its reach. We will have more events in a variety of Kennedy Center venues, we will be emphasizing American works and American singers, expanding our education and outreach programs before every performance, and adding more events with our members of the Domingo- Cafritz Young Artist Program. I hope these initiatives will continue to entice both new and returning audiences to the Kennedy Center to experience our wide range of thrilling performances."

A celebration of Wagner and Verdi

WNO's 2013-2014 season opens with a celebration of the bicentenary of two of opera's most important and beloved composers-Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. First is Wagner's classic story of the glorification of love, Tristan and Isolde, which runs September 15-27, 2013 in the Opera House. The opera is widely regarded as containing some of the most sublime, romantic music ever composed. The starry international cast is led by American soprano Deborah Voigt, one of the most important Wagnerian singers of her generation, as Isolde and Ian Storey as the dashing knight Tristan. The production, new to Washington, is directed by acclaimed Australian theater director Neil Armfield and is conducted by WNO Music Director Philippe Auguin.

Verdi's The Force of Destiny returns to the Opera House for the first time in nearly 25 years in a bold new production by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, October 12-26, 2013. This rarely performed epic drama features a young international cast full of fresh talent. The rising young American sopranos Adina Aaron and Amber Wagner make their WNO debuts sharing the role of Leonora, one of the most difficult roles in the repertory. Chilean tenor Giancarlo Monsalve and Puerto Rican tenor Rafael Davila share the role of Don Alvaro. Italian baritone Luca Salsi and Spanish baritone Àngel Òdena share the role of Don Carlo. The cast also features Georgian mezzo-soprano Ketevan Kemoklidze as Preziosilla, Colombian tenor Valeriano Lanchas as Fra Melitone, and Italian bass Enrico Iori as Padre Guardiano. The WNO Orchestra is led by Chinese American conductor Xian Zhang, who recently completed her tenure as Assistant Conductor at the New York Philharmonic, in her WNO opera debut.

Richard Wagner's
Tristan and Isolde
Libretto by the composer
Production from Opera Australia

Tristan: Ian Storey
Isolde: Deborah Voigt
Brangäne: Elizabeth Bishop
Kurwenal: James Rutherford
King Marke: Wilhelm Schwinghammer

Conductor: Philippe Auguin
Director: Neil Armfield
Set Designer: Brian Thomson
Costume Designer: Jennie Tate
Lighting Designer: Toby Sewell

Performed in German with English supertitles. Supertitles may not be visible from the rear of the orchestra.
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Wagner says farewell to Romantic love?

A review of the MET Parsifal from the perspective of a second time audience member - and relative newcomer to opera: the Telegraph's Sameer Rahim.

Many of Wagner’s operas are driven by rebellious sexual passion. In his first mature work, Der fliegende Holländer (1843), Senta’s ballad to the wandering ghost pulses with obsession. In Tristan and Isolde (1859), the title characters defy moral and musical conventions in pursuit of erotic nirvana. Some of the most ravishing music in the Ring Cycle comes inDie Walküre (1870), when brother and sister Siegmund and Sieglinde fall in love. I’ve also noticed, though, that Wagner has sympathy for characters who reject dangerous passion: the cuckolded King Marke inTristan; Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger; in the Ring, the betrayed Fricka and even Alberich only renounces love after he's piqued by the Rhinemaidens.

Wagner's enrapturing romantic music runs the risk of being stifling – even narcissistic. So I find it fascinating that in his final opera, Wagner turns his obsession on its head: in Parsifal (1880) sexual passion must be confronted and surpassed – and thus transfigured into a universal compassionate love.

On Saturday I saw Parsifal for the second time at a live cinema screening from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. The first time I saw it, at ENO two years ago, I came away moved by the music but puzzled by what it all meant. Now, with a bit more Wagner under my belt, it became (at least in part) a bit clearer.

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Listen Now on demand: MET Parsifal March 2013

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 3 March 2013 | 4:53:00 pm

Update. Alas, we forgot that not all international readers can receive BBC Radio 3's on demand service. If that is you, this performance is presently available in good quality audio sources on demand by a number of radio stations for a short time. Might we recommend Latvian Classical Radio 3? Given the links with Wagner, and this being 2013, we thought it most appropriate. You can also chose to listen using either Real Media Player or WMP via this source. Simply click either link below to use your preferred media-player or visit their archive section to play directly from their site - alas, written in Latvian only

Should you have missed yesterdays live relay of the MET's new production of Parsifal you can catch it for the next 6 days on BBC Radio . Click the link below to listen.


Presented by Margaret Juntwait and Ira Siff.
Parsifal.....Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Kundry.....Katarina Dalayman (soprano)
Amfortas.....Peter Mattei (baritone)
Klingsor.....Evgeny Nikitin (bass-baritone)
Gurnemanz.....Rene Pape (bass)
Titurel.....Rúni Brattaberg (bass)
First Esquire.....Jennifer Forni (soprano)
Second Esquire.....Lauren McNeese (mezzo-soprano)
Third Esquire.....Andrew Stenson (tenor)
Fourth Esquire.....Mario Chang (tenor)
First Knight.....Mark Schowalter (tenor)
Second Knight.....Ryan Speedo Green (bass)
Flower Maidens.....Kiera Duffy, Lei Xu, Irene Roberts,
Haeran Hong, Katherine Whyte & Heather Johnson
Chorus and Orchestra of The Metroplitan Opera, New York
Daniele Gatti, conductor.

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