Sunday, January 2, 2011

Homoki and Lange and the superb Meistersinger at Komische: Tómasson, Ebenstein, Jentzsch, Lie...

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Komische Oper Berlin, December 12 2010

    Conductor ... Patrick Lange
    Director ... Andreas Homoki

     Hans Sachs ... Tómas Tómasson
     Veit Pogner ... Dimitry Ivashchenko
     Kunz Vogelgesang ... Christoph Schröter
     Konrad Nachtigall ... Carsten Sabrowski
     Sixtus Beckmesser ... Tom Erik Lie
     Fritz Kothner ... Günter Papendell
     Balthasar Zorn ... Peter Renz
     Ulrich Eißlinger ... Stephan Spiewok
     Augustin Moser ... Thomas Scheler
     Hermann Ortel ... Karsten Küsters
     Hans Schwarz ... Hans-Peter Scheidegger
     Hans Foltz ... Hans-Martin Nau
     Walther von Stolzing ... Marco Jentzsch
     David ... Thomas Ebenstein
     Eva ... Ina Kringelborn
     Magdalene ... Karolina Gumos
     Ein Nachtwächter ... Marko Spehar

Chorus and Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin

Kinder! Macht Neues! Neues! Und abermals Neues! Hängt ihr euch ans Alte, so hat euch der Teufel der Inproduktivität, und ihr seid die trurigsten Künstler!

Richard Wagner, letter to Franz List (Sept. 8 1852)

This is one of those productions which makes you understand why Andreas Homoki is such a great director and why Komische Oper in Berlin (KOB) is (one of) the coolest opera house(s) in the world today.

His production of Die Meistersinger is not a typical regie-theater -- in fact it is not at all what is usually tacitly assumed to lie under a "Regie"-label. It is a classical staging in which the acting takes the central role,  in addition to very cleverly organized sets which never interrupt a dramatic flow of the show. Homoki made it simple and clean, extensively using the major strength of the KOB ensemble -- ability to act together -- as a troupe, and their awesome chorus. In other opera houses, besides Homoki, you would need to put too much rehearsal time to pull such a splendid theatrical performance. It is too costly and you rarely see that happen [that's why Basel, Stuttgart, La Monnaie, and Komische are so special]. What is very important to stress though, is that this theatrical excellence is no way diminishes its extremely high musical standards.

To better understand the awesomeness of the director's work in this production you should keep in mind that this opera is 6 hours long (with intermissions), and for such a refined theatrical performance --which would be pleasant to watch even without music and/or singing-- you definitely need a mighty troupe and a fantastic chorus.

As I just mentioned the show is very much as you would expect Die Meistersinger to look like. Nuremberg looks like a Lego-village, with all the houses and a church look gray (blueish). Every "building" is on wheels and that already opens plenty of possibilities for the stage designer and for the director: eg. When Hans eavesdrops on Eva and Walther, it's easy to show; when you want to show the streets of Nuremberg you can order the houses around the church and let the chorus fill them in; when you want to show the conservatism of Nuremberg, you can simply order the houses like a wall between us (the public) and them... To make the third act festive, all the houses and costumes change colors and from the gray-bluish everyday Nuremberg, we are in a joyful city.

One magic of the Komische --which I particularly like-- is that when you enter the auditorium, the stage is bare naked, dimly lit and ready for theatrical magic to happen. It somehow prepares you, and makes you even better to feel that force when something is being created from scratch, in front of your eyes.  The village is built in a few minutes (during the overture) and the action begins.

When the whole mass brawl happens in the end of Act-2, it is easy to push the houses against one another and make the whole city look like a big mess in which Hans Sachs asks that entropical question: what makes people so easily embrace disorder and violence?!

Hans Sachs is indeed a cobbler wearing an apron, just like David - his apprentice. To emphasize maturity of Sachs' he also has a mustache.  All that simplicity helps the smoothness of the action.

Not to make a lengthy review, let me simply spell out 5 reasons --other than Homoki's staging-- why this production is a must-see:
  • Orchestra and the conductor: young Patrick Lange is AMAZING! This score flies 100% of the time out of his hand, and his baton looks like a magic wand! The orchestra seems effortless and -to be perfectly honest- better than the one in Bayreuth.  Patrick Lange was almost an unknown young conductor, and after the spat between Homoki and St.Clair, Lange got to the House's musical director. That's the artistic audacity you see at the Komische which I like the most:  they did a similar thing 7 years ago with Kirill Petrenko and now Kirill is one of the world's best conductors -- all categories combined. 
  • Chorus: this opera is full of long chorus arias, and the way this chorus performs is simply fantastic. Komische Oper Chorus is as good as the one at Deutsche Oper Berlin. 
  • Four male roles: (1) Hans Sachs: How in a world didn't I notice Tómas Tómasson before? Un-freaking-believable! Wasn't that man supposed to get tired in Act-3?! Instead as the show progressed his voice was growing bigger and he gave such a huge punch in the closing monologue that I was turning around to check with other folks if they too realized how jaw-dropping a performance that man had just delivered! (2) David: Thomas Ebenstein is definitely a name to remember. Richly timbred, beautiful tenor -- with a volume that could easily fill the largest of theaters! (3) Walther von Stolzing: Marco Jentzsch was a very good Eric in Der Fliegende Holländer at DSO in Amsterdam earlier this year. This role is a different beast: it is much longer, certainly much tougher to sing -- especially because his repeated aria should sound better with every next time he sings it with a voice getting more tired. Here he proves that he's a fantastic young Wagnerian tenor. His singing sounds approximately similar to Klaus Florian Vogt's, with a very open throat (you have an impression as if the voice is emitted outside his mouth) although I don't have impression it's his natural way to sing that way. Hope this technique works with him and his top notes will not melt away once he gets to the age of 40 or so. (4) Sixtus Beckmesser: Tom Erik Lie was simply magnificent in his role! Vocally, scenically - impeccable!
Of shorter roles, Dimitry Ivashchenko's exemplary performance, of course, stands out.

There is a catch in this production concerning the controversial Sachs' closing monologue [which is why I believe this opera will not survive the test of time], but that's material for some other blog entry...
More production photos [all © Komische Oper Berlin]:

Below are the photos I took:

Stage before the beginning of Act-2

Tomasson and Lie

All the soloists and the magnificent KOB chorus

Lie and Ivashchenko

Eva and Walther: Ina Kringelborn and Marco Jentzsch

Jentzsch, Tomasson and Lie

Patrick super-Lange

Magdalene (Karolina Gumos) and David (amazing Thomas Ebenstein)

Xmas tree in the Komische

Here is the trailer:

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