Tannhäuser @ The Flemish Opera

55fe59aa2160bFor years I tried to listen to Wagner. But it’s just not my thing. And the 3-4 times I went to see it life (Tristan, Götterdämmerung, Holländer and one more I think, and only because it was part of my subscription) it turned out to be an expensive nap and a repetition of steps which followed the same sad pattern: 1-Enthusiastically think about an evening at the opera, 2-Listen carefully forcing myself to scratch together a bit of curiosity, 3-Feel the tiredness come up after 5-10 minutes, 4-being woken by thunderous applause and leaving the opera at the first interval. Big was my surprise when I assisted at Tannhäuser at the Flemish Opera in Ghent a few days ago. The ouverture is melodious, there are arias, duets, ensembles, instead of endless non-stop music, and not too bad ones at that. Of course for somebody who hungers for belcanto, everything seemed different, main thing being that singers seem to scream. But at least this opera made me want to stay another act rather than running off like a scalded cat.



I am really not the right person to talk about Wagnerian voices. But Tannhäuser sounds like a murderous role, a huge range. And I admired Andreas Schager who was up to task. Liene Kinca as Elisabeth had a beautiful timbre and never forced her voice. It rather sounded as if Venus (Ausrine Stundyte) and Walther von der Vogelweide (Adam Smith) had slight difficulties when notes rose too high. But I liked Daniel Schmutzhard and Ante Jerkunica in their respective roles as Wolfram von Eschenbach and Hermann. Calixto Bieto kept the things in black and white, tree tops hanging from the ceiling on black background in the first act, clean and minimal white lines in the second act. I don’t go into the interpretation as already reading the libretto awakened a mix of hilarity and ridiculousness. But the orchestra and chorus played and sang well.

Muzikale leiding-Dmitri Jurowski, Regie-Calixto Bieito, Décor-Rebecca Ringst, Kostuums-Ingo Krügler, Belichting-Michael Bauer, Dramaturgie-Bettina Auer, Koorleiding-Jan Schweiger, Hermann-Ante Jerkunica, Tannhäuser-Andreas Schager, Elisabeth-Liene Kinča, Venus-Ausrine Stundyte, Wolfram von Eschenbach-Daniel Schmutzhard, Walther von der Vogelweide-Adam Smith, Biterolf-Leonard Bernad, Heinrich der Schreiber-Stephan Adriaens, Reinmar von Zweter-Patrick Cromheeke


Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno @ Stadttheater Bern


What music I find most boring? Anything by Wagner and Haendel, really. However, I can imagine that the whole baroque machinery might take the drag off: Dolphin-drawn sun chariots, ocean waves, thunderstorms and lightnings, a herd of cherubs descending from heaven, sea monsters, floods. Also, singers were able to wildly vary the da capo sections, dresses were stupendous and spectacular.

During that time.

What do we hear and see today? Regietheaters, Wilsons and wanna-be’s and their lame pantomimes, unimaginative and lifeless shows. Singers without a hint of fantasy, or unable to master two rapid notes in sequence. This is why Haendel to me is but a snore (I suppose not only to me as the theatre was only half full).

Haendel was 22 when he composed the oratorio to this allegorically-charged text (by no less than cardinal Benedetto Pamphili) in 1707. The plot is quite simple: Beauty (Bellezza) realizes she will not remain beautiful forever but Pleasure (Piacere) assures her she will, so Beauty swears eternal fidelity to Pleasure. But Time and Disillusion (Tempo e Disinganno) start a moral and philosophical dispute to lure Beauty into their world of penitence rejecting Pleasure.

In Bern we see staged the ideas of enfant-terrible Calixto Bieito, who is shocking to some, crazy to others, weird to most. He is original, to say the least. Bieito keeps the allegorical character, but his very personal way: a fun fair represents life in which the characters interact, where Pleasure gives herself over to the pleasures of life (shopping, smoking, sapphic love, copulation with Beauty, etc), where Disillusion cuts herself to bleeding wounds, where pleasure gives teddy bears as presents to children on the carousel under a rain of colours in a vortex of joy etc etc.

STAATSOPER STUTTGART "Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno"

Bieto has an interesting, never obscene, point of view. You don’t have to accept it. But if you are able to get into his world, you swallow the meager text much more easily. And without his staging this opera-evening would just be an expensive nap.

The singers, unfortunately, are not up to the baroque style. When they are not covered by the orchestra one can hear a very inadequate coloratura so that the da capo arias are like watching paint dry. A real drag and the evening passes only thanks to Bieito’s spirited and stimulating staging.

The orchestra articulates poorly and the director is probably not much more inspired by the music as I am: all sounds dull, dreary, lethargic and insipid.

Musikalische Leitung -Sébastien Rouland, Regie-Calixto Bieito, Bühne-Susanne Gschwender, Kostüme-Anna Eiermann, Licht-Reinhard Traub, Dramaturgie-Xavier Zuber, Bellezza-Hélène Le Corre, Piacere-Christina Daletska, Disinganno-Maria Prudenskaja, Tempo-Charles Workman

Bern 12/6/13