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The biennial George Enescu Festival has been the main cultural event in Romania since 1958, when the festival was created as a response to the western criticism on cultural stalinism in this country. In 2015, after a 25% cut on its budget, the festival continued to impress with a vast number of concerts, organized in a manner combining the symphonism of BBC Proms and Verbier’s concert operas. Apart from music, there was a large debate over the appointment of conductor Vladimir Jurowski as the new artistic director of the festival, following the departure of Ioan Holender, which failed to be settled by the end of the festival. During his tenure, since 2005, Holender managed to impose a stronger presence of opera in the festival, and this time there were no less than six operas presented.
90 years after its world première, Wozzeck finally arrived in Romania. Although presented in a concert form and not attracting too large of an audience (less than 1000 people in the vast “Sala Palatului” concert hall), the performance was outstanding. Michael Volle as Wozzeck and Evelyn Herlitzius as Marie were both commanding in their roles, and, with the support of the highly detailed direction of Leo Hussain for George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, they managed to deliver the human drama of Berg’s masterpiece. The final touch of emotion was brought by the last lines from the children’s scene, sung in Romanian. Still, this was one of the best performances in the whole festival this year, matching the quality of Berliner Philharmoniker’s first appearance in Bucharest (with Britten and Shostakovich orchestral music).
Leo Hussain, who will conduct the British première of Œdipe next year, at the Royal Opera House, led twice the traditional run of Enescu’s single opera during the festival. Tensions between the conductor and the orchestra over the score made Hussain refuse to appear for the curtain call, on both evenings. Nevertheless, his lecture was a high-definition rendering of the orchestral part. Davide Damiani’s Œdipe was an evolving character, his voice, ranging from suave tones in the first act to tragic accents in the self-mutilation scene, was a dramatic journey, as opposed to the usual hieratic approach used in Romania. The National Bucharest Opera’s production was the same as for the last three editions of the festival (already reviewed here in January 2014) and will be replaced with a new one, this season.
The Bayerische Staatsoper’s Elektra, in concert form, had its great success, with an impressive Elena Pankratova in the title role, but not quite up to the usual level of required hysteria, and sometimes drowned by Sebastian Weigle’s powerful direction. A special appearance: Agnes Baltsa as Klytaemnestra, as the mezzo was brought to international attention by winning the third prize at George Enescu Competition in 1964. Rene Papé was luxurious in the small role of Orest and Anne Schwanewilms was adequate, but frequently overmatched by the demands of Chrysothemis.
The Baroque opera had its share, too. The first attraction was Catone in Utica by the Pomo d’Oro ensemble, led by the very young but effective Maxim Emelyanychev replacing Riccardo Minasi and the much expected parade of counter-tenors (Max Emanuel Cenčić, Franco Fagioli, Ray Chenez and Vince Yi). Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppeea were brought to Bucharest by The Academy of Ancient Music led by Richard Egarr, with a cast including Ian Bostridge (as a barytonant Ulisse) and Sarah Connolly (as a fierce Nerone).
Last but not least, the Festival had a new production première of Dan Dediu’s Münchhausen – Herr der Lügen, at the Children’s Comic Opera, a delicious and humorous chamber opera, with the Profil ensemble, conducted by the composer and sung by soloists from the National Opera of Bucharest.