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Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikowsky - Pique Dame
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(Jul 31, 2009)
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Ein Fest für jeden Opernfreund: Tschaikovskys 'Pique Dame', ein Werk des Repertoires und doch selten gespielt, ein Ensemble berühmter Namen und großer Singschauspieler, dazu ein Dirigent der Sonderklasse - eine Aufführung, wie sie auch an der Wiener Staatsoper nicht zum Alltag gehört.
Live recording from the Wiener Staatsoper, May 16, 1992
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Conductor: Seiji Ozawa
Chorus Master: Peter Burian
Herman - Vladimir Atlantov (Tenor)
Lisa - Mirella Freni (Sopran)
Graf Tomski - Sergei Leiferkus (Bariton)
Die Gräfin - Martha Mödl (Alt)
Fürst Jeletzki - Vladimir Chernov - (Bariton)
Polina - Vesselina Kasarova (Mezzosopran)
Masha - Yvette Tannenberg (Sopran)
Gouvernante - Anna Gonda (Mezzosopran)
Chekalinsky - Wilfried Gahmlich (Tenor)
Surin - Rudolf Mazzola (Bass)
Major Domo/Festordner - Peter Jelosits (Tenor)
Chaplitsky - Franz Kasemann (Tenor)
Narumov - Peter Köves (Bariton)
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Oper, 'Live' Produktion
2.2.92 , Wien,Staatsoper
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Regie: Kurt Horres
Bühne NN * Kostüme NN
Interpr. Freni ' Atlantow ' Kasarova ' Mödl ' Chernov ' Alexejev
158 Min. Nach einer Werkgetreuen Inszenierung von Kurt Horres- die In Wien zum Standart viele Jahre gehörte
Die Besetzung ist Rundum als Ideal anzusehen, Voran Mirella Freni bis Atlantow, Kasarova der Junge Chernov.
Großartig der Tod der Alten Gräfin in der Darstellung von Martha Mödl.
Das Orchester unter Ozawa wurde damals auch hoch gelobt.
Ich sehe diese Produktion als Referenz an und empfehle sie wärmstens.
2 sterne, mehr geht sich für mich nicht aus.
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It gets worse: The edition of Tchaikovsky's opera performed is a mercilessly cut one. I would not have expected this as recently as 1992, in an A-list-cast Vienna State Opera production of a great work by an important, popular composer. The chorus is mostly eliminated from the first scene (the children's contingent gone altogether). Following the prelude, the opera just segues into two low-voiced supporting men having a conversation, BOCCANEGRA-style. In the second act, do not expect to see the intermezzo with Tchaikovsky's charming bucolic ballet and symbolic love triangle; the only trace of it is the major-domo's announcement. The disc's listed running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes; rival versions come closer to 3 hours. Any gain in focus and homogeneity comes at the expense of shifts in tone and hue that, surely, Tchaikovsky had carefully built into these scenes.
It cannot be said that what remains is even a great "no-frills" PIQUE DAME. Maybe the production was that at one time, but by this revival, it was a dim old thing being hauled out, and it doesn't give the people on the stage many options. Whether sunlight or storms are being discussed, whether the protagonist is lurking in an old woman's bedchamber or a lavish party is being thrown, it is gloomy-looking. When supernumeraries sit on park benches in the background to strengthen the impression of an authentic community around the main characters, they look to be modeling boredom or apathy. I wish this fell under the heading of meta commentary. There is literally not much to see here.
On the musical level, the news is mixed but there is enough to tempt. This performance happily keeps a '92 role streak going for Sergei Leiferkus, again the impeccable Tomsky he was in St. Petersburg and Glyndebourne. He receives the best direction in Glyndebourne, but in all cases makes a magnetic figure of a character who can seem little more than an exposition/talk-to device. The other, more romantic baritone part, Yeletsky, is capably taken by Vladimir Chernov, who would enjoy a period of vogue in Verdi roles at the Met that decade. A young Vesselina Kasarova brings her recognizable and arresting deep tones to Pauline, a lucky little role on video (elsewhere, one can get early Borodina or a recent Stotijn).
Vladimir Atlantov was very much the Slavic equivalent of Mario del Monaco, for good and ill. He matched his reckless methods and impressive lung power against Hermann for more than 20 years, and a commercial audio recording from his 1970s prime exists. The present performance comes from the wrong end of the career: the voice is raw and restricted in dynamics, and the sound gives little pleasure. A firmer directorial hand might have finessed Atlantov's generalized intensity into a compelling portrayal of obsession and psychosis, but all the cast members are abandoned to old-fashioned hand-over-heart, palm-outstretched music melodrama. The Liza, Mirella Freni, was in her late fifties at the time, but we must give her only a slight handicap. Even in her obvious maturity, she conveys innocence, artlessness, and her trademark mixture of girlishness and solemnity. If time and the years of heavy vocal lifting (ERNANI, LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, AIDA) had imparted a slight flutter or beat to the tone, she still had come out the other side of her risky experiments sounding like herself, giving classic "Freni performances" in old roles and new. A conscientious, well-judged, and artistic performance from a beloved 20th-century singer.
The 80-year-old Martha Mödl sings the enigmatic Countess, and her performance is hard to review, harder to look away from. The resources are narrow. The arc of a single line may take us from the solid remnants of a once-imposing Wagner voice to something that could barely be called a voice at all. Musical nuances elude her; at one point she is not close to the orchestra's key. Both her Russian and her French are labored and phonetic. Through all this, she is expressive in a way that matches or shames everyone else on the stage. The Mödl Countess does not only engage in a wistful reverie about her younger and happier days (a valid option); she is *passionate*, reinvigorated by these memories, as if she is smelling and tasting things gone by and now longs to see and touch them. Her death is quite convincing.
Maestro Seiji Ozawa oversees surprisingly disheveled, unmotivated, and even tonally sour playing from the Vienna orchestra, and the chorus is not distinguished (with poor pronunciation) in what is left of the choral music when the blue-penciling is done. Rehearsal, rapport, or both must have been lacking here. A better representation of Ozawa's PIQUE DAME (uncut) can be heard on the excellent RCA CD recording made with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Chorus a year prior, with a similar cast (Freni, Atlantov, and Leiferkus retained; Maureen Forrester, Katherine Ciesinski, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the Countess, Pauline, and Yeletsky respectively). A warning about *that* set: the generally higher level of vocal polish puts Atlantov's roughness in sharper relief.
PIQUE DAME's remains a troubled DVD field. Of the four I have seen (the trio from 1992 plus the more recent TDK taped in Paris in 2005, conducted by Rozhdestvensky), each has compelling points and potentially disqualifying ones. The half hour of cuts rules out Ozawa/Sony first, although fans of its several important singers may want it for them. I also found the Gergiev/Decca disappointing, despite its all-Russian performing forces. It too suffers from a stodgy, shopworn production, albeit a brighter and more varied one than Vienna's. It is underacted and underdirected; technical quality should have been better, and it has the least effective Countess. Where I don't feel the Kirov and Vienna productions do enough, the Paris one by Lev Dodin (TDK) attempts too much, setting the opera in a mental asylum and freely tailoring the libretto's scenes to conform to the concept. The score is also trimmed a bit, though nothing close to the compression Ozawa allowed. A superb cast led by Vladimir Galouzine throws itself into Dodin's Regietheater QUEEN with fierce commitment (special mention for Irina Bogatcheva's beautiful Countess, younger and healthier-voiced than is the custom). It may be the best of these performances...if heard without the picture.
So, my choice among those presently available is easy. Glyndebourne '92, with the least starry cast (Leiferkus and Felicity Palmer being the biggest names) succeeds as music *and* as theater in Graham Vick's atmospheric, period-accurate but visually off-kilter psychological thriller. The stumbling block for many will be a Hermann who sings very unpleasantly, though not without style and a certain logical consistency. Some find his persistently flat, straight-toned singing of the central role unlistenable; others adjust to his eccentricities (much of what he does "wrong" seems volitional) as one element within a gripping production. He is, to say the least, memorable.
The Met's well-regarded Elijah Moshinsky production (televised in the late 1990s with Domingo as Hermann, subsequently revived more than once with fine casts, but persistently left out of the HD lineup) continues to puzzle by its absence.