Thursday, April 26, 2012

From Munich to Paris with love: Unforgettable ride of the Valkyries

Die Walküre in concert, Théâtre des Champs Élysées (TCE) in Paris, April 24 2012

Kent Nagano ..... Conductor 

Lance Ryan ..... Siegmund 
Anja Kampe ..... Sieglinde 
Ain Anger ..... Hunding 

Thomas J. Mayer ..... Wotan 
Michaela Schuster ..... Fricka 

9 Valkyries
Nina Stemme ..... Brünnhilde 
Danielle Halbwchs ..... Gerhilde 
Golda Schultz ..... Otlinde 
Heike Grötzinger ..... Waltraude 
Anaïk Morel ..... Schwertleite 
Erika Wueschner ..... Helmwige 
Roswitha C. Müller ..... Siegrune 
Okka von der Damereau ..... Grimgerde 
Alexandra Petersamer ..... Rossweisse 

Orchestra of the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich

The only unfortunate thing about this memorable evening was that the concert took place between two working days (Tue and Wed) and one really had to make a mighty effort to survive the stress at work the day before/after the concert -- concert that started at 18:00 and ended at 23:30ish.

Other than that the only way to sum up the evening in one sentence is "Whata great GREAT concert that was!"

The Bayerische Staatsoper (BSO) visit the Théâtre des Champs Élysées (TCE) every year and surprise the parisian crowd time and again by a smashing performance of an opera in concert. After a stunningly sung and played Parsifal last year, this year they came with the most extraordinary rendition of Die Walküre [just after finishing the run of the new Andreas Kriegenburg production in Munich].

The secret for such a huge orchestral performance is probably the fact that they come to Paris after the run of the same opera at the BSO, and then after a short break they come to Paris and reach their absolute peak.  It cannot get any better than this!

Tuesday night they reached that subliminal point when accuracy became a fixed parameter in the equation, and they could try to go beyond to offer us something truly unique, something truly artistic -- such moments were particularly strong in the second Act and in the middle of the third. For that to happen, besides a confident and enthusiastic orchestra, you need an extraordinary conductor. Kent Nagano is definitely one of those. He's been working with this orchestra for years and he knows how to get the best out of them, to push them beyond the technical prowess to lead them over  the subliminal line when something truly unique is created.

I know it is not the right moment to rub it in, but I must say once again that all the infamous "Thielemann episode" in Munich was beyond stupid. It lead to the end of Kent Nagano's contract with BSO at the moment when the complicity between him and this fabulous orchestra is culminating. Politics is everywhere...
Kirill Petrenko is a great conductor too, but reaching the level of Nagano will take years of work, patience...

Back to this memorable concert. It seemed as if Nagano reflected on every bar of the score and then created a composite sound that gained depth that you could not hear before. The foundations are of course strings but the complicity of the brass and wind sections was extraordinary. Kent does step up and push for big sounds in the musical intermezzos, but in a millisecond he would tame the orchestra to give space to the singers. His tempi are chosen to exacerbate the dramatic and lyrical moments of the opera [without crossing the line to sound like cheap Puccini in the third act (unlike some 'famous' conductors who do that today)], but fine tuned as to respect the singers' length of breath.

And the singers: boy! It was the knockout performance on all levels. Anja Kampe is not a familiar name in Paris and I guess she too was surprised by the level of cheers she received in the end. She definitely won the Paris crowd and I expect to see her in Paris more often in the future. I was glad as I predicted this would happen after I saw her formidable Sieglinde in Berlin last year.

Anja Kampe surprised by the loud "Brava" - Ain Anger and Michaela Schuster next to her

Her Siegmund, Tuesday night, was  Lance Ryan who always impresses by his innate qualities of a true heldentenor. You would expect a big guy with such a big voice, and when you see Lance you cannot not being impressed: when almost all other tenors start dying, Lance adds a notch of power to his voice, goes for top notes with no problem and you as a spectator you start feeling you jaw progressively dropping. I love Michaela Schuster, not only because she's a very good singer, but because she's a fantastic dramatic opera singer. Her incarnations of the villain characters are never one-dimensional, and her singing reflects that always. She narrates, she sings -- and gives more sense to the text she sings. Her top notes are bright and beautiful and the crowd loved it.

Bravo-Bomb to Nina Stemme. On her right: Thomas J Mayer, Anja Kampe, Lance Ryan, Michaela Schuster

To me Nina Stemme is to me the best Wagnerian singer of all time. Her Brünnhilde is smashing on every possible level (except occasionally in pronunciation). Her gravi are amazing, her breath support is unbelievable, and when she hits the top notes it all sounds spontaneous, effortless, beautiful and powerful. We love Nina! Brünnhilde always gets the largest rounds of cheers and it was obviously the case after this concert too -- concert that ended with a standing ovation [an extremely rare phenomenon in Paris!]
With Georg Zeppenfeld, my fave singer is Thomas Johannes Mayer. I loved his Wotan in Paris a couple of years ago, his Amfortas in Brussels, but my real admiration came after his Wozzeck in Basel. That man is theater! Besides his great sense for drama he sings divinely. The way he utters every word, his declamation is never dry and his voice is perfectly bassy and baritonny when needed. Just a perfect bass-baritone fit for Wotan. While inhabiting the complex Wotan character he never  neglects any detail and never goes for a cheap caricature -- contrary to what you almost always get on recordings (René Pape excluded!)

Rarely smiling but obviously happy with his performance, Thomas J Mayer

Finally a brilliant Hunding by Ain Anger. He's not yet at the level of Hans Peter König or Stephen Milling but he's getting there (his Sarastro last December was fantastic). Great singer and definitely one to follow in the future!

I wouldn't like to finish this entry without mentioning eight Valkyries -- all fantastic, and I could bet some of them big Wagnerian voices of tomorrow.

8 super Valkyries!

Before the concert started the atmosphere in the lobby of TCE was special. The air felt electrifying and people looked as ready for something special to happen. And special it was!
During the performance the silence was deadly, with no coughs, no blinking iPhones, no candies being unwrapped... Each Act would end by an explosion of Bravo's that bordered a general hysteria (including Yours Truly who shouted his lung out!)

Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and the most fantastic Kent Nagano

Ah yes..., at the beginning of Act 2, just when Nagano was about to come onstage, someone in the crowd broke silence by saying: "Merci pour la mise en scène ! Tellement mieux qu'à la Bastille !", which generated a round of laughs both in the crowd and in the Orchestra. :)

 Unveryfortunately Radio France Musique did not record this extraordinary concert.

Too bad I was too close to be able to take a pic of the full orchestra. In such a starry night, they were probably the brightest star of the evening. More pics:

The only pic I dared to take during the performance: this man is theater!


  1. Any chance of this being broadcasted by France Musique...?

  2. Hi Mei! No unfortunately. There were no microphones on stage :(
    I have a recording of the BR broadcast from BSO last month. It is very good but not at the level of brilliance of the concert at TCE. The cast was different too (Katarina Dalayman <--> Nina Stemme, Klaus Florian Vogt <---> Lance Ryan, Sophie Koch <---> Michaela Schuster). If you want me to...


    1. Thank you but I already have that recording... ;)

      I hope we got the Munich Ring Cycle broadcasted in July...

    2. Ha!
      I don't believe they'll broadcast the whole Ring. They usually stick to their program scheme and there you see what they planned and when:

      But hey we can always hope ;)

  3. I was there too and was totally swept away by the wonderful direction, formidable singers and global dramatic/musical intensity. An enthralling and uplifting evening .... et tellement mieux que La Machine. (To think I almost didn't buy a ticket to this because I was worried I wouldn't be up to 5 hrs of Wagner without a mise en scène!)

  4. Opera is good, a Wagner Opera is better, a superbly performed Wagner Opera is the best :)

  5. La Machine was the star of Das Rheingold at the MET last night but only due to the anonymity of the actual direction.
    I think I may have a Munich Ring so I am not so disappointed at missing the TCE performance.
    Is Stemme scheduled to sing a complete Cycle in Europe?

  6. Ha :)

    I keep telling that Lepage is Zeffirelli in disguise.

    Yes, Nina will sing the whole Ring in Vienna.

    Unfortunately that Ring is scenically subpar and the cotton ball conducting by Welser-Möst is not the way I like Wagner operas being performed -- but that's probably me. I actually prefer an unknown conductor to discovering a different take on the Ring. With FWM I know what I'm going to get so...

  7. Good diddance to Negano