Friday, February 27, 2009

Opera Review - Idomeneo, Hannover Staatsoper

I've been meaning to write this review since we went to see the opera, but life kind of got in the way...

For Valentine's Day my husband surprised me with tickets to see Mozart's first successful opera, Idomeneo at the Hannover Staatsoper (State Opera House). I'd never seen it and didn't know much of the music, just the odd soprano aria or two, so I was excited!

As we approached the opera house we passed Littfaßsäule (one of those wide pillars onto which they paste posters of current and future events) with a poster for the opera. We looked at each other in horror. Oh no, it's a modern production. Just so you know, neither of us is a fan of modern productions, which is to say modern costumes, modern sets etc. I love costume dramas (movies) and Early Music, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I don't like them. That said, if I ever saw one that was really well done, then I'm sure I would like it, but I never have, sad to say. In this country, they love minimalism and nudity on stage (even if it has nothing to do with what's going on on stage) and as far as I'm concerned, if you are going to do an opera from the ranks of the standard repertoire with modern production elements, then certain other aspects (the singing, the acting) MUST be top-notch. And unfortunately, this is rarely the case. But before I get ahead of myself let me just say this: We were not excited by the prospect of Idomeneo set in the modern world.

Magnus had gotten us really excellent seats, 2nd balcony, first row, towards the middle so we had a great, head-on view and good sound.

The curtain went up and the entire stage was WHITE, with a huge white block (about 12 - 15 feet (4 - 5m)high, 6 (2m) feet wide and 25 - 30 feet (6-8m) long. HUGE. This block was mounted on a mechanical turntable and it slowly spun around. It did this throughout the entire opera. The costumes were completely in white and all the singers had blond hair (or wigs) and white (real or painted) skin. So, monotone is the only and quite accurate word to describe it. Later, when Idomeneo appears bloodied after a harrowing sea voyage, there's lots of red "blood" that gets distributed. Pointless, but a welcome relief from all the white. The stage director (Philipp Himmelmann)also did nothing to help the audience understand the mistaken intentions and intrigues of the story. The characters often sing duets, but aren't actually singing to each other, in fact, if it had been a movie they probably would have used a split screen to indicate that the people aren't actually in each other's presence. But here, the singers acted as though they were singing to each other, touching one another and gesturing: "Why doesn't he realize I love him!" "She spurns my passion - how shall I live?1?". Um, sorry, but I think the stage director completely missed the point.

So, on to the actual singing. The singers, for the most part, were fine. I was pleased to see that my favorite singer from Carmen (Arantxa Armentia) was playing Electra. Unfortunately, she was overly dramatic (which given that her character is the most dramatic one, is reason to forgive her that) and she over-sang the entire time, occasionally to the point of ugliness. Strangely, she was the one who over-sang the least in Carmen, which was my biggest criticism of that opera. Why would she do so in a Mozart opera?!? The other female singers, as I said were fine, especially Ania Wegrzyn, who sang Ilia. She has a fine lyrical voice with lots of understated power. Barbara Senator (Idamante) was a bit weak, especially in comparison to Wegrzyn, but the quality of her voice was pleasant. My biggest gripe: You couldn't understand a word any of them were singing. The vowels were much too dark, (which is a-typical of Italian) with little differentiation.

Tomasz Zagorski, who sang the title role of Idomeneo, was magnificent, however. Nuanced and lyrical, with subtle emotional qualities able to express themselves. AND you could understand his Italian. A fine belcanto-style voice. He deserved much more of an ovation than he received. I'll keep my eye out for future roles he sings.

The orchestra, as usual, was solid and enjoyable. The musicians were occasionally more entertaining than the opera itself.

Besides Zagorski, the choir was a highlight of the evening. They were omnipresent, for which I pitied them (I know what it's like to be required on stage even when you have nothing to do). But they have a wonderful ensemble quality with some fine voices doing the bit solos.

Let's see. Maybe the 3rd opera we see in Hannover will be the charm? At least this one was a definite improvement on Carmen.


Monday, February 16, 2009

We'll be trudging up the mountain...

Yes, last weekend I was in Switzerland. Magnus and I took off to visit my friend Jane (the Viol player) in Aarau where she lives on Saturday.

We flew into Zurich and had a few hours to kill before catching a train to Aarau. We did about half of the main tourist tour. Zurich is pretty cute for a biggish city. We went to a Pizzeria near Jane's for dinner. Yum.

Sunday, we left quite early in the morning, took 2 trains (picked up a friend) and a bus to the side of a mountain, had hot chocolate first (as one does) and took off. It didn't take long before we had to strap on the snow shoes. Have you ever worn snow shoes? Do you have any idea how heavy those things get after about 20 steps in 3 feet of snow?!? Do you?!? I thought not. Well, I didn't either. I just thought, when Jane suggested it, "How cool, I've always wanted to try that!" I did quite well until about hour 5, when my slow plodding became weary trudging. We still had an hour to go. I'm ashamed to say I let Jane carry my small backpack the rest of the way (she insisted!)and it was a huge weight off my back. And my feet, quite literally! OK, all complaining aside, we wandered through pristine snow and saw almost no one (although a group of about 15 Germans passed us coming the other way). We ended up at a little plateau with several mountain cottages that belongs to the Spelunking club that Jane is a member of. This was pretty rustic - it had only a gas fired space heater (which worked fine because there was only one small room) and gas lamps. No running water and a latrine next to another building 50 yards away through the snow. We made Fondue for dinner. It was heavenly. We slept in the unheated attic, which was basically open to the elements. Jane's boyfriend had joined us there in the evening and created a warm nest for us out of wool blankets and 4 or so sleeping bags. I had also brought along my arctic sleeping bag so I was toasty! Except for my nose. Magnus had to flip his head one way and then the other an hour later to warm up his ears periodically.

One mishap: Magnus lost both his cell phones, which were in his jacket pocket in a plastic bag. Ly went all the way the next morning and didn't find them. By the time the snow melts and someone picks them up they'll be ruined...

We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up, strapped on those damned snow-shoes and slid down the mountain. We caught a bus to Interlaken and another to the base of the mountain across from the famous Eiger, ??? and Jungfrau mountains. From there we took a "train" straight up the side of the mountain and then a ski lift (in a cabin) two stations to the top. There we rented sleds. We had a lot of fun sledding down the mountain. Unfortunately we only had time for two runs.

We took the last lift down and returned to Aarau. We had a nice dinner at Jane's with her boyfriend, Tino as well. Next morning we took the train to Zurich, where we only had about an hour and a half. We wanted to look around, but Jane told us about a Mexican shop close to the train station. They weren't open for another 20 minutes when we got there so we had a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe. We bought salsa, spices, corn flour (yellow and blue!), black beans, chorizo and jalapeno peppers. Mmmmh! We also wanted to buy some Swiss cheese so headed over to the Coop and bought three different kinds: Guyère, Brie, and Vacherin. Mmmmh!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

La voce libera - Masterclasses in Hannover a Success!

Yes, folks, the masterclass week in Hannover is come and gone and was a complete success! Carol arrived on Monday evening and taught a few lessons (I got one too) at my place on Tuesday morning. Wednesday was the first day of the official seminar and everything went very smoothly. It was great seeing some participants from classes in Paris, Lyon or Frankfurt and to hear their sometimes astonishing improvement. We had one hiccup due to the fact that I'm not really the best of organizers: Instead of 11 lessons to teach on Thursday (already 1 more than prefered), suddenly there were 12 people on the list! Ack! Luckily, I was able to convince a woman from Hannover to come to my house on Saturday for a lesson. Phew, narrowly missed the dog-house there!

I can hardly believe it, but we made it in under budget! That means that our participation fee was just right. Not too low and not too high. Double Phew!

We would love to make these classes in Hannover, Germany a yearly occurance. It depends on Carol's availability and on the other seminar weeks in Germany. It would be best to spread them out logically. Carol and Aldo are considering living in Europe (probably Lyon, France) for a few months of the year in winter. That would make logistics sooooo much easier! Will keep you posted.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Be Like Bruce - Forgive. Accept. Hug.

I went to Frankfurt this weekend. I lived in Frankfurt for many years, and still maintain close ties to my friends and the church I went to - the Church of Christ the King, one of the English language churches in the city. Unfortunately, my reason for the trip was not a happy one. Bruce Hunter, a long-time, upstanding member of the church, a singer in the Darmstadt Opera Choir and the church choir, father of 2 teen-age daughters was killed tragically in a bicycle/automobile collision Tuesday, 20 January. He was riding his bike and an elderly driver was blinded by the setting sun. The man reached to pull down the sun visor and got caught on the steering wheel (don't ask me! I don't know how that happens) and veered to the side hitting and ran right over Bruce. He died on the scene.

Now this is someone who was very active in the church, but not only that he was one of the most positive, loving, inspirational people any of us had ever known. He always had a huge smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. His faith was strong. He wore loud clothing. His voice was rich, and warm and powerful. It's hard to believe he's really gone on to the Kingdom of Heaven he was so fervently believed in. He helped create the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, which is where it really needs to be.

He was loved by so many people - over 400 people came to the funeral on Saturday. The opera choir traveled in a bus and sang the Ave Verum by Mozart. The children's choir sang On Eagle's Wings, his daughter Miriam and the youth group performed a song she'd written. The adult choir sang Shall We Gather By the River/Deep River by Carter, and a man Bruce had studied with in Indiana sang the solo. We also sang Give Me Jesus. People came from all over Europe and the USA to be there for the funeral and the choir was augmented by former members (including me). It was like a time-warp. And it was an emotional roller coaster. Singing, weeping, laughing, weeping, singing, weeping, laughing. All inspired by this wonderful man.

It was bittersweet. We've lost a shining star in the world and I had to say farewell. But at the same time, his death achieved what he did in life so well: Many (old) friends (Allan, Kathy, the Sladdins, Dorothee, Annabelle, John N. and more), some of whom I hadn't seen in years, arrived and we sang together.

Someone had made pins for all of us to wear:

Be Like Bruce
Forgive. Accept. Hug.

World Improvement Plan:
Be Like Bruce