Tribuna Musical: Tannhäuser, Nosferatu, Thatcher and Pinochet: what a mixture!

Tribuna Musical:  jueves, noviembre 12, 2015
Tannhäuser, Nosferatu, Thatcher and Pinochet: what a mixture!
Yes, indeed, what a mixture. In just eight days I revisited Murnau´s “Nosferatu”, the greatest horor film in history; I wallowed in the rich Romantic music of Wagner´s “Tannhäuser” in the Met´s admirable directly transmitted presentation at the theatre El Nacional; and I suffered through an unpalatable opera, “Aliados”.

            I will start with Wagner. I don´t go to every HD Live performance of the 2015-16 season of New York´s Metropolitan Opera, but I very much looked forward to “Tannhäuser”, the third title, a necessary choice for “porteños” considering that the Colón last offered it in 1994 and that it´s a marvelous opera, even if I dislike its manicheistic aspects. 

            Back in 2010 I had the very special experience of seeing “Tannhäuser” in Berlin, and a few days later of visiting the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach and there I was, in the famous room of the contest between the Minnesänger (knights who sang about chaste love): the Second Act of this opera.

            And that brings me to the great protagonist of this Met revival: the wonderful production by Otto Schenk, decades old and liberated from the current pest that´s ruining opera, the “concept productions”.  He keeps to Wagner´s indications and gives us beauty and truth, abetted by Günther Schneider-Siemssen´s nonpareil stage designs and the perfect period costumes by Patricia Zipprodt. Even the choreography (Norbert Vesak ) manages to be insinuating but not gross.

            There are two versions of this opera: Dresden (1845) and Paris (1861); the Met wisely chose the second, which expands the Venusberg bacchanale and is more advanced harmonically. The Pagan world (Venus) contrasts with the severely Christian court of Hermann, Count of Thuringia. Sin (free love), honor, the faith of the peregrines to Rome, the rejection of the courtiers, Elisabeth´s pure love, are the elements of this drama that ends with her sacrifice redeeming Tannhäuser after he was rejected by the Pope (not even he can pardon the Minnesänger for being Venus´ lover).

            The music has great arias for Elisabeth, Tannhäuser and Wolfram,  magnificent choirs, big duets for Tannhäuser with the Goddess and Elisabeth and the sumptuous pageant of the Second Act. At the helm after 45 years at the Met and 2500 performances (!)  was the ailing but enthusiastic James Levine, grimacing from his wheelchair but still a first-rate Wagnerian and leading what is the best opera orchestra in the world. The excellent Chorus under Palumbo was stalwart throughout.

            Johan Botha is overweight but he has the stamina and good musicality to be a good Tannhäuser, one of the most trying parts in all Wagner along with Siegfried and Tristan. Eva-Maria Westbroek was an intense Elisabeth of sensitive acting; Peter Mattei sang admirably his compassionate Wolfram; Michelle DeYoung was a Rubensian Venus singing with ample voice; Günther Groissböck was a noble Hermann (bass); and the young soprano Ying Fang showed  fresh timbre and fine line as the Shepherd.     

            The images had fine resolution and the sound was quite clean although the orchestra was a bit relegated.

            I have seen “Nosferatu” four times counting this one, and I remain convinced that along with “Faust” it is Murnau´s most imaginative work. Nosferatu means The Bird of Death, and Murnau called his picture thus although it is clearly based on Bram Stoker´s Dracula. Klaus Kinski was Nosferatu in Herzog´s film, and Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee were Dracula later; all very good, but the only one that has impressed me as much as Murnau´s Max Schreck (what a name! Schrecken means horror) was Willem Dafoe as Schreck in Merhige´s “Shadow of the Vampire”, based on the idea that he was a real vampire!

            Both Schreck and Alexander Granach as his acolyte are great Expressionist actors, but what matters most is the  filming , such as those scenes in that fascinating city, Lübeck. But why am I writing about a film in a musical column? Because the 1922 masterpiece was offered at the Colón, with live music composed and conducted by the Spanish José María Sánchez-Verdú with the Orquesta Filarmónica de Montevideo and the unnecessary import of accordeonist Iñaki Alberdi .  All made their local debut.

            The Colón has done similar combinations with Fritz Lang´s “Metropolis” and “The Nibelungs”, and both were better than this one, for I found Sánchez-Verdú´s music repetitive and obvious, with little ambience save certain passages. It was apparently played well, and I wish the Montevideans a return visit so that we can hear them in symphonic repertoire. The bad hand programme gave no information on the film!

            I will be brief  about “Aliados, una ópera en tiempo real”, music by Sebastián Rivas and text by Esteban Buch, both Argentines resident in Paris. It is a grotesque pamphlet about the meeting in London of the exiled Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet (ailing and soft-brained) and the ex Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, both in wheelchairs. Although the staging by Marcelo Lombardero was imaginative, I disliked the videos of poor quality and biased thinking. And what we heard was a sorry beginning for the 19th Cycle of Contemporary Music curated by Martín Bauer.

            I admired the fine work of Eugenia Fuente, well abetted by Leonardo Estévez, Alejandro Spies, Patricia De Leo and Mateo De Urquiza, and the instrumental group played well under the sure hands of Pablo Druker. I don´t admire the originators of the project in Paris, the group called Manifest.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Tribuna Musical: Tannhäuser, Nosferatu, Thatcher and Pinochet: what a mixture!

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