Munich Opera Festival 2013 Highlights Verdi and Wagner

GermanyGermany  Verdi: La Traviata, Bayerische Staatsoper’s Orchestra and Chorus, Dan Ettinger (conductor), Munich Nationaltheater, 9.7.2013 (JMI)

Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Günter Krämer
Sets: Andreas Reinhardt
Costumes: Carlo Diappi
Lighting: Wolfgang Göbbel

Violeta: Marina Rebeka
Alfredo: Saimir Pirgu
Germont: Simon Keenlyside
Annina: Silvia Hauer
Flora: Heike Grötzinger
Doctor Grenvil: Christoph Stephinger
Gaston: Kevin Conners
Baron Douphol: Christian Rieger
Marquis D’Obigny: Tareq Nazmi

La traviata_Simon Keenlyside_Marina Rebeka c) Wilfried Hösl
La traviata_Simon Keenlyside_Marina Rebeka c) Wilfried Hösl

This year the Munich Opera Festival is offering a strong program of works by Verdi and Wagner. In fact, my stay in the Bavarian capital coincides with performances of four operas by Wagner and five by Verdi.

Last night featured the Günter Krämer production of La Traviata which I had reviewed in 2012

It isn’t easy to judge a conductor of this repertoire in a house like Munich’s since the operas are offered with very little rehearsal time. In fact, Traviata was performed earlier this season with a completely different cast. Given the circumstances, Dan Ettinger’s work was quite good, with a fine control of all the forces under his baton, including the stage. I found Meir Wellber’s reading last year more interesting, but this is not a criticism of Mr. Ettinger. There were solid performances from orchestra and chorus, although not at the same level as in the prior evening’s Il Trovatore.

Violeta was Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka, who, if I’m not mistaken, was making her debut in Munich. Despite her reputation, I must say that I wasn’t convinced by her Violeta in vocal terms. It has been said that Violeta requires three different sopranos, and that is almost true. The most convincing part of her performance came in the second act, for which her voice is best-suited. Her singing was fairly routine in the first act, with an uninspiring interpretation of E’ strano. In fact, she avoided the high E at the end of Sempre libera, which was surprising: I remember her singing this piece with the high note included less than seven years ago, which is not much for a soprano of 33. In the last act she showed little emotion, mainly because her voice is not what the score requires. Addio del passato did not get any applause, and it was the same with the subsequent duet, Parigi, o cara. Marina Rebeka has many positive qualities and is an interesting soprano, but her timbre is too metallic. Her triumphal reception in the final bows did come as a surprise after what happened in the last act.

Saimir Pirgu replaced Piotr Beczala who had initially been announced in the role of Alfredo. The truth is that something was lost with the change: he was a correct Alfredo but not notable. Mr. Pirgu has an attractive voice, but he pushes his limits in this part. He sang with gusto, although his top notes were rather thin.

Simon Keenlyside repeated the role of Germont, and again he showed his usual strengths and weaknesses. From my point of view, he is a great artist, his phrasing is elegant and he gives sense to the words in dialogues and arias, although his voice isn’t what we might call a Verdi baritone. In any case, if the most compelling part of the performance was the second act, it was due in large measure to his presence on stage.

With the exception of Annina, all the secondary characters were the same as in last year’s presentation.

The theater was fully sold out. The audience showed their enthusiasm at the end of the performance but were rather cool during it. Marina Rebeka as well as Simon Keenlyside were cheered at the final bows.

José Mª Irurzun