Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Lohengrin" enchants audiences in Athens!

By Thanassis Vavlidas

1/2/2017, "Lohengrin" by Richard Wagner (Athens Concert Hall, known as Megaron Moussikis of Athens)

It is quite encouraging that during the last years the Greek National Opera reset its relation with Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) and started performing his operas. "Lohengrin", a romantic opera in three acts, is based on a libretto by the composer himself. His inspiration came from a song of 12th century's troubadours. The story begins with a historical hint: King Heinrich arrives in Antwerp in an effort to assembly all the German tribes in order to expel the Hungarians from his dominions. He asks why the Duchy of Brabant is suffering from disorder. He learns that Elsa is accused of having murdered her brother and he asks her to defend herself or choose somebody else to defend her. Elsa then speaks of a dream where a knight appears and saves her. The dream comes true with the appearance of Lohengrin in a boat drawn by a swan. So, the romantic story injected with fantasy begins. Elsa accepts to be saved on the condition that she will never ask the name and origin of the knight, and she becomes attached to him with the threads of love. The psychological factor now enters the story. Evil forces, represented by Count Telramund and his wife Ortrud, fight against this relationship. The dramatic factor is ready to play its decisive role in the story's evolution...

The music reveals here some of Wagner's innovations: The introduction, played by the orchestra, has a continuous musical flow; the same stands for the arias, duets and ensembles. The chorus has a significant role in the opera, like in the ancient Greek drama. The technique of the Leitmotiv is sorted into groups, while the timbre becomes an important defining element of the structure of the music in order for the latter to contribute to the perception of the text by the audience. "Lohengrin" was first performed in Weimar at the Grossherzogliches Hoftheater on 28 August 1850. The musical director was Franz Liszt, Wagner’s future father in law. This is why the performance of 1894 at Bayreuth, staged by Cosima Wagner, daughter of Liszt, had the air of authenticity and contributed to the popularity of this great work.

The performance of the Greek National Opera was a new production that originated from the Welsh National Opera and the Teatr Wielki - Opera Narodowa (Warsaw). The British director Antony McDonald was responsible for the sets and the costumes. He set the story in the nineteenth century, implying facts that Wagner himself might have experienced. He managed to direct our attention to the characters of the story and the relationships among them with a discrete aesthetic effect (associate director: Helen Cooper). The chorus-master Agathangelos Georgakatos succeeded in presenting a well-balanced effect regarding the chorus musical lines. Peter Wedd (tenor), as Lohengrin, sang with clear vocalization expressing the mystery of both the heroic and the erotic element of his role. Jolana Fogasova (soprano) as Elsa of Brabant, with her voice in its acme, transfused to her role the hidden energy of Elsa, especially in the first act. Martina Dike as Ortrud and Dimitri Platanias as Friedrich of Telramund forcefully transferred to their arias the menace of their roles, shading them with red and grey colors. Myron Michailidis conducted the Orchestra, the Chorus and the singers of the Greek National Opera vividly and consistently, approaching the Wagnerian style in a way we have never heard before from them; he preserved the constant musical flow with the necessary outbreaks and he gave prominence to the special timbre of this music. We are looking forward to their next performance of an opera by Wagner!

Thanassis Vavlidas
Member of the “Union of drama and music Greek critics”

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dvořák: Symphony No 7 in D minor, Op 70 (Conner Gray Covington)

Conner Gray Covington conducts the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 in D minor. Notice the influence of Brahms (esp. 2nd Symph.) and Bruckner.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44 | Mikhail Pletnev

* This is the restored, complete version of the concerto, without the cuts made (more or less arbitrarily) by Alexander Siloti after the composer's death.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Rachmaninov / Respighi: "The Sea and Seagulls" (Lopez-Cobos)

In 1929, Serge Koussevitzky had the idea that some of Rachmaninov's 'Etudes-Tableaux' for piano solo would sound well if orchestrated and he suggested Respighi for this task. Rachmaninov himself was delighted with the idea and suggested five of the pieces, additionally supplying Respighi with various programmatic ideas and titles. The first number in the set is "The Sea and Seagulls" and it is heard here in a performance by the Cincinnati Orchestra under Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux op. 39 (Vladimir Ashkenazy)