Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fidelio in Munich

Fidelio, Bavarian State Opera in Munich, December 21 2010

Tatulescu, Selig, Myllys, Koch, Kampe, Kaufmann

Director ..... Calixto Bieito
Conductor ..... Daniele Gatti
Set ..... Rebecca Ringst
Chorus ..... Sören Eckhoff

Don Fernando ..... Steven Humes
Don Pizarro ..... Wolfgang Koch
Florestan ..... Jonas Kaufmann
Leonore ..... Anja Kampe
Rocco ..... Franz-Josef Selig
Marzelline ..... Laura Tatulescu
Jaquino ..... Jussi Myllys
1. Gefangener ..... Dean Power
2. Gefangener ..... Tareq Nazmi

The Bavarian State Orchestra
The Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera

His chief characteristic is his fear of thinking for himself
Czeslaw Milosz (about the intellectual's relationship to totalitarianism

A series of proofs of various  Murphy's laws stood between me and this show. First, the night before my trip to Munich I first broke my capped tooth. Then a nervous neighbor came to complain about an apparent leak from my kitchen (which I obviously wasn't aware of) - and then goes the fuss about displacing the fixed pieces of furniture...  Outside, loads of heavy-watery-fugly snow slowed every movement in the city, tiny snow-plougher cannot cope with it, and a plumber called to say he couldn't come. Ah the plumber eventually came the next day  but only 3 hours before my plane was supposed to take off to Munich...  To cut the nervous details out, I finally arrived to the Charles de Gaulle airport almost 40 mins late. While pretty much everyone at the airport seemed to be extra-nervous because long delays in air-traffic due to too much snow, I was relieved  when I saw that my flight was only 90 mins delayed. Arriving to my hotel in Munich was obviously NOT jinx-free:  lots of snow around on icy sidewalks ---> yes, I slipped on the marble-paved entrance and fell quite spectacularly. Worst of all, the fall was such that I managed to dirty almost every piece of my cloths!  And so, 2h30 before the show I had to dash to a neighboring department store to buy a clean pair of trousers and a sweater... FFwd... run to the opera-house where I came literally 2 minutes before the beginning of the show. To break the bad spell, I found out that my wonderful seat is just underneath the presidential box (goooood!), but I also figured I was the only one not glamorously tuxed for the occasion [this premiere was evidently an important social event in Bavaria.] Sadly, during the intermission I didn't get to see a fellow blogger who I said I would meet up with -- meeting up someone you don't know without having phone numbers exchanged was not very clever I guess...

OK, now about the show. Fidelio is a very dear opera to me and the magic of Calixto Bieito made this trip worth it for me. This is not a typical Calixto-show, which is maybe why I extra-liked it, although it emphasized once again his special ability to direct the show straightforwardly -- by driving your attention to many details, all closely related to the same message that hits directly to your (sub)conscience.

Musically, to be honest, the show was not all that great. Dunno, I guess I expected it to be better.  You all know that I like Daniele Gatti very much and I think his conducting of Parsifal was one of the best musical performance I've ever listened to. While the slow Parsifal helped us to feel the unexplored richness of its score [subtle sounds are usually embroiled in faster paced Parsifal's] and to expose the brilliance of the Bayreuther Festspiele Orchestra, the slowness in Fidelio diminished the dramatic intensity of the opera. To be more specific,  for example Don Pizarro is expected to appear as an insane oppressor; in a slowly paced musical background his outbursts of rage get unfortunately diluted and lose their impact.

I think I understood Gatti's intention: to be slow and subdued in Act-1, express the lifelessness and depression of what Bieito was proposing in his show, and then in Act-2 breath in more life and pace, to feel the hope kicking in the world of unhappy individuals. Alas it did not work! Gatti's too tamed orchestra appeared almost colorless (read boring) in Act-1, jeopardizing Anja Kampe's breathing more than once. Not surprisingly, when Gatti appeared in the pit before Act-2, he had to face an avalanche of boos from the crowd that lasted for nearly 2 very long minutes. In Act-2 his conducting improved drastically.

As for the singers, to me, Anja Kampe was the best and judging from the enthusiastic response of the crowd I was not alone thinking so.  She has a big rich voice, neatly sized for this very difficult role in tough conditions: Bieito's staging is physically exhausting, the sets are tricky to maneuver [requiring extra concentration], while Gatti's slowness made her job extremely difficult [in particular during Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern.] She coped with all this admirably by taking risks (each time,  tightening her fists.) A huge BRAVA to her!

Jonas Kaufmann and Franz-Josef Selig were both very-very good as usual, although I thought they were a notch better a couple of years ago in their same respective roles at Opéra Garnier in Paris. It must have been particularly hard on Jonas: in his native Munich, with so much publicity about and around him, he needed lots of guts to sing Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!  the way he does, while fighting a juicy cough between two stanzas. About his musicality and his engaging acting I wouldn't have much to add: I guess that's what makes him so good, in addition to his attitude of a humble team member instead of a star - which he is. Don't change Jonas!

Laura Tatulescu is a fine young singer who in the beginning sounded a bit intimidated by the event but as the show progressed she got better and better -- in the end her voice was beautifully cutting through the chorus. Similar could be said for Jussi Myllys, an excellent young tenor, who we will be talking about in the years to come. Wolfgang Koch has the qualities of a dark rich baritone, which added to his good acting skills, shaped into a compelling Pizarro.

What about the Bieito's show? While von Peter was building his show on a desire for tempered liberation from constraints of traditionalism, Bieito goes to his favorite subject and points at the forces manipulating our "post-modern" society in which the ideologies are pretty much dead, the society is driven by greed and money. In an individualistic society this struggle for "liberation" becomes individual too.  Leonore is a woman who takes her destiny in her own hands and like a modern woman pulls her own strings of destiny. At some point it is she who literally pulls the strings attached to the whole maze -- which in a sense is a message that women today are more audacious then men. Not all of them, of course! Marzelline is an example of a young woman who -by her nature- is old-school and who struggles through life, who is manipulated and frustrated. Man (Florestan) is trapped in the world of expectations and desire to succeed, realizes the futility of it all and falls into passivity and hopelessness. He is afraid of any move, of anything that might change his life, but deep down insecure and eventually depressed. That's that struggle of the post-modern man: to free himself from that hopelessness.

In Act-2, two shelves (labyrinths) will be further moved back, and the front maze is pushed to fall on its back [other dimension to the truth we believe we see] and we see other lost souls - men in suits, depressed, personalities imprisoned in the formated image who succeed in their lives (Rocco comes up occasionally with a suitcase full of money to throw). They carry large empty tags around their necks. There is a scene which I thought so "cruelly" depicted today's society: when Don Fernando appears in Act-2 ready to kill Florestan, all these men and women rose their tags (piece of hard paper) not to see the scene. They are concerned, but they prefer not to react, not to engage in any shape or form...

The ending is of course modified. ;)  Leonore (again a feminist reference!) throws an acid liquid in Don Pizzaro's eyes. She helps Florestan to dress up, to get rid of his PJ and to embrace life. She too needs to feel like a woman and jumps into a dress. Arrival of Don Fernando is the major twist in the game. He is not a savior and a symbol of justice... we are past that today: Don Pizzaro Don Fernando looks like Joker in Batman. He is a big manipulator who makes his big entrance by watching the show from a balcony next to the stage. He will enter to do what you would expect Joker doing: to kill Florestan! It will be a fake killing, just showing the world of individuals in which no-one wants to stand for another man, and exposing the weakness of a modern man -- Florestan -- who is now incapable to even fight for his own life.

In the last part of the show there is a beautiful reference to the performing art and its role today. Three cages with musicians trapped in them were descending from above the stage down to the mid-height, and were pulled back after the performance was over. I leave you to decide what Bieito meant by that :)

Wiki-link for a synopsis is here. Many production photos are already posted here. Below you may find my photos taken during the curtain call, including a short video.

I understood this is co-production with English National Opera, where this show should travel next year (I guess!)

Steven Humes

Jussi Myllys

Wolfgang Koch

Franz-Josef Selig

Jonas Kaufmann

Anja Kampe

Calixto Bieito and Daniele Gatti
Production pics can be found in my previous post. Trailer:

Plus my short CC video:


  1. Thank you for the detailed review. I listened to the performance on the radio. I thought, the cough was part of the charakter portrait! But actually JK is ill.

  2. Rumour has it that the production will not come to ENO as the sets are too elaborate for the Coliseum stage...

    Sorry about your fall. Last year I slipped on the ice outside the Deutsche Oper on my way to Rienzi in Berlin and am still suffering.

    Did you make it to the London Tannhauser at the ROH?

  3. Don Fernando looked like the Joker in Batman not Don Pizarro! Interesting report, tho

  4. Thanks Ano! [says the King of typos ;)] Corrected.

    Hi John! Thanks. No the fall wasn't that bad. I fell on my backpack and then rolled over it to dirty everything I had on. Didn't see Tannhäuser because of the snow (!) I'm still to listen to it. Did you like it?

    Hi Edda! I believe he had a cold. I noticed he canceled 2 shows already too (Robert Dean-Smith stepped in)

    Cheers all

  5. Thanks for the great review. I saw the show on January 1 and Kaufmann was still ill unfortunately. I really liked Bieito's approach, but apparently quite a few didnt. I never experienced such a disrespectful audiance before. Booing and shouting while the music was playing, people leaving the hall with lots of noise, etc. I dont know if thats a Munich standard (it was my first time there), but it really affected my viewing pleasure that night. And I felt sorry for the artists! Nevertheless, another great show by Bieito, and I'm looking forward to seeing lots more in the future!

  6. At the premiere they booed Gatti when he entered the pit before Act-2. They also booed the silence during which the maze was "falling" on backside. There were some boos during the curtain call too but that's normal after any Bieito show.

    Munich has that socially provincial flare that has its good & less flattering sides - both of which are very visible during important events at Bayrische Staatsoper. With that being factored out, I love the house and most of their program in Munich.

  7. I can live with boos at curtain call, if someone really has the urge to show his disapproval (though I'd never do that myself, even if I disliked a show), but DURING the show I think it's just highly disrespectful and totally out of place. That night people booed and shoutet while the 3 cages with the string quartett were floating down, which totally destroyed that highly emotional moment. I still plan to see some more shows in Munich though, as the place itself is just beautiful.

  8. I see :(
    That definitely is boorish.

    I believe some folks were prepared for something much more controversial from Bieito (there was a lot of trash talk in the press prior to the premiere) and that liberated them to boo during the show.

    My next trip to Munich will be for the Festspiele :)

  9. Yes, I was kinda surprised myself about that "different" Bieito. Here in Basel we're used to much more violence, blood and sex. ;) (I live in Basel and have already worked with Bieito myself in Aida, as I'm a singer in the "Extrachoir").

    I might go to Munich again later this year to see Kusejs Rusalka which sounded very interesting.

  10. Aah Theater Basel is cool! I should write a shore review on that magnificent production of The Queen of Spades, that is currently running in your house.

    Kusej's Rusalka is brilliant, but if you can catch the one by Stefan Herheim in Dresden - it is better (and wonderfully sung too).

  11. It's a magnificent production indeed, and the cast is just incredibly good! Ignatovich and Lee (Lisa and Tomskij) are two highly talented young singers, both members of the ensemble in Basel. Im pretty sure they'll both have a great career and I hope we'll see them a bit longer in Basel before they move on to bigger houses. I'll see it for the 2nd time next Saturday. The 1st time Aksenov (Hermann) was ill and I had the pleasure to hear Aleksandrs Antonenko instead which made it a very special evening. (Sorry for the offtopic post) ;)

    Herheim is one of the directors I'm yet to see (probably cause he's never been in Basel so far), and he's absolutely top of my wish list. So maybe I'll take your advice if I can squeeze a trip to Dresden in.

  12. Aleksandrs Antonenko as Hermann?! Wowza! Lucky you :)