23 September 2009

James Conlon on the Ring cycle

As part of the "Road to the Ring," you can enjoy a rare "up-close" encounter with Maestro James Conlon, the Music Director of LA Opera, at the Broad Stage, Thursday 24 September 7:30PM 2009.

The Ring cycle, one of the most influential works of Western art, follows the adventures of gods, heroes and mythical creatures struggling for posession of a magic ring that grants domination over the entire world.

Renowned for his interpretations of Richard Wagner's repertoire, Maestro Conlon will conduct his first Ring cycle in the United States as part of LA Opera's 2009/10 Season.

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Reserve seats on the Event page

The Broad Stage
1310 11th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401

16 September 2009

Hans Hotter Centenary Week

Hans Hotter Centenary Week, 23rd – 30th October 2009: This course at the Lodge Hill Centre, Watersfield, Sussex covers not only the roles of Wotan and Gurnemanz sung at Bayreuth by one of the 20th century’s greatest Wagnerians, but also his roles in the Barber of Seville, Strauss’s Die Schweigsame Frau and Boris Godunov and his singing of Palestrina and Die Winterreise.

The speakers are Penelope Turing, author of "Hans Hotter - Man and Artist" and David Stannard and other participants include tenor John Dobson, Hotter’s biographer Donald Arthur and his daughter Gabriele Strauss.

More information and registration: +44 20 78286712

07 September 2009

Andrew Shore on Bayreuth

Jim Pritchard has interviewed Andrew Shore about singing at Bayreuth. Shore has been praised by critics and the public for his Alberich in the Dorst Ring.

When Shore was asked about how the performances are rehearsed at Bayreuth he answered:

I think they achieve tremendous things here. I saw Stefan Herheim’s Parsifal production and although it is not an opera I know particularly well and so didn’t understand everything the director was doing with it, I could see how it all related in some way to the text. It was almost cinematographic with the stage pictures changing as the text moved through. It was very good considering the shortage of rehearsal time you get on stage here. There are seven productions to put on and so there are seven first nights almost in a row and it leaves very little stage time for each one.

Of course when we started with the Ring in 2006, the obviously that first year gets the longest preparation. We rehearsed the four Ring operas from the middle of May through to the opening night in late July. Even eight weeks or so is not enough considering the enormity of the undertaking, so traditionally they always have a few preliminary rehearsals the year before and I came out in 2005 whilst that Festival was on to do one week’s rehearsal on the opening of Siegfried Act II and the Hagen scene in Götterdämmerung. That’s all I did then so when I came back in 2006 we did the rehearsals proper.

Now for this year it went to the other extreme and we did very little rehearsing. The 19th June was the earliest I could get here because I was singing in Milan. I assumed that rehearsals might have already begun before I got here but no: that was when everyone was starting so virtually all we had time to do was cover each scene that we were in once; just to make sure we remembered it. Naturally there are the orchestra rehearsals which are always held in the restaurant and then towards the end of the schedule you go on stage for the final rehearsals with the orchestra. When I first came back here in 2007 it was a shock to find how little revival time there was, but you get used to the system and that is just the way it is. At the Festspielhaus there are 6 or 7 different rehearsal stages most of which can accommodate large sections of the set even if they cannot take the whole thing. The sets are usually constructed in such a way that they can be wheeled around in units from one of these stages to another.

Shore's view on the Dorst Ring is very similar to what almost everyone thinks:

I must be honest and say I was disappointed and had expected more when I first started work on this Ring because, naturally, one comes to Bayreuth with the expectation – right or wrong – that you are going to see something exciting and done in the proper way. Of course, what you discover is that those things depend entirely on the creative team and Bayreuth is no different in any respect from anywhere else in that.

The first Alberich - and indeed Wagner – I had done was at ENO when Phyllida Lloyd directed the Ring. Now whatever you may think of Phyllida’s production it had been very carefully thought through and, from a performer’s point of view, it was richly rewarding because my character was fleshed out. I understood my motivation, my relationship with everyone else, and where I stood in the contemporary world if you wished to make that parallel association. Having dealt with all that I come here to be confronted with what I can honestly say is a very naïve approach – but I think deliberately so – on the part of the director.

Tankred Dorst is someone who, as far as I know, is steeped in the mythology of the Ring particularly from the literary point of view. He clearly respects the simple narrative of the words and instructions as they are they are presented in the text. One cannot criticise him too much from a personal point of view because he has never produced an opera before and he has come to it with his own best intentions. That is why the curtain comes in so many times in this staging because the text says that the curtain comes in and so that is what has happen. His starting point is the text and I suspect this is why he got this idea, which for me is a very simple and insubstantial one, of having the modern world creeping into scenes. Sometimes so much happens in musical terms between the time these extraneous characters appear and then reappear that the audience are really puzzled as to what they are doing there. So it would have been better if the modern world idea had been followed through more and showed that the mythology had some real relevance to the modern world.

I repeat: I do think it is all due to Tankred Dorst’s lack of experience in opera and he is a thoroughly nice man. Now in my fourth year here, I increasingly feel I am much more in control of what I am doing; you come in the first year as an innocent Englishman waiting to be told what to do, how to sing it, when to come out, where to sit and all that. You end up feeling that you must please everyone as much as possible and that is not what a performer should really be doing. Now I’ve come through all of that and do feel I’ve seized control of what I do with regard to the acting and, within prevailing limitations, feel freer to do what I think is right because the director is only too happy for me to do that, it seems.

Andrew Shore was supposed to wear a costume with an extra head, but luckily this was dropped:

The designer and director wanted Alberich to appear as a rather more inhuman sort of figure and I would have a false head sitting on top of my own and my face would be blacked out. So picture this, if you can, an unmoving head with a fixed facial expression with which, of course, there were several problems when we tried it out in rehearsal. Firstly, it was difficult to move around without the head falling off, but the main problem was that I felt it was distracting from the way I wanted to express Alberich - which required using my real face and not a false one. I felt instinctively that it would only be a matter of time before I had to put my foot down about it.

Fortunately I had Wolfgang on my side about this. At that stage he was still very much around and had the habit of appearing at rehearsals anytime unannounced and sat at the corner of the stage resting his chin on his stick while we were going through things and the production staff were in the auditorium. There were two things about this; first of all I found it so moving that the composer’s grandson was watching me perform Alberich with his face wreathed in beaming smiles and I thought to myself ‘Isn’t this wonderful’ because he was obviously appreciating what I was doing. More importantly, however, whenever that wretched head appeared he would make a real fuss about it because, as everyone knows, he was always very outspoken and would start shouting out his opinions in his rough Bavarian German. It came to the point where he started hiding the head so we couldn’t use it and people would be rushing round saying ‘Have you seen the head?’ Wolfgang would sit there – as innocent as could be – having hidden it. He hated it and I am so grateful for him speaking up.

On working with Christian Thielemann, Andrew Shore says:

Well the music is on a completely different level for me and it is astonishing the sounds that he gets from the orchestra. They are, of course, all hand-picked players; they have played this together for four years now and many could have played it with him before, so they know how to respond to his every gesture. Watching him mould and shape the music is wonderful yet he retains the freedom from one performance to another to slightly change little corners, taking a bit more time here or there and you know you just have to keep you eye on him all the time to respond to those little moments.

Read the whole interview here

Andrew Shore on the prompter's role at Bayreuth

06 September 2009

Seattle Ring in August

Three complete cycles of Seattle Opera’s production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen has recently been performed at McCaw Hall.

The production was first unveiled in 2001, "inspired by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest". Director Stephen Wadsworth and conductor Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, returned for this summer’s production, which featured singers like Janice Baird, Stig Andersen and Greer Grimsley.

On Seattle Opera’s website, guest bloggers have been invited to contribute to the Seattle Opera blog, and the blog also featured a daily caption-writing contest. Doing what all opera houses in my opinion should do, the Seattle Opera used YouTube as part of their marketing stretegy. A new video series called The Road to Valhalla gave viewers a look behind the scenes into the complex activities that go into producing the Ring Cycle, and trailers (see below) were also put on YouTube.

The Seattle Ring videos

Das Rheingold - the Seattle Opera Way

Die Walküre - the Seattle Opera Way

Siegfried - the Seattle Opera Way

Götterdämmerung - the Seattle Opera Way

The Seattle Opera
The Seattle Opera Blog

02 September 2009

Seattle Opera Ring: The Road to Valhalla, part 1-5

For the performances of three full Ring cycles at the Seattle Opera, several informative videos were made, covering the rehearsals, costumes, sets and props, special effects and orchestra/chorus. The videos give a great glimpse of the backstage life.



Sets and Props

Special effects

Orchestra and Chorus