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
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!|