An Excellent New Staging at the Munich Opera Festival of a Rare Weber Opera

25/07/2017

GermanyGermany Munich Opera Festival 2017 [4] – Weber, Oberon: Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus / Ivor Bolton (conductor), Prinzregententheater, Munich, 24.7.2017. (JMI)

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Munich Opera Festival’s Oberon © W. Hösl

Cast:

Oberon – Julian Prégardien
Titania – Alyona Abramowa
Rezia – Annette Dasch
Huon – Brenden Gunnell
Fatima – Rachael Wilson
Scherasmin – Johannes Kammler
Mermaid – Anna El-Khashem

Production: Bayerische Staatsoper and Theater an der Wien

Director – Nikolaus Habjan
Sets – Jakob Brossmann
Costumes – Denise Heschl
Lighting – Michael Bauer

Every year the Munich Opera Festival offers some novelties. The two operas chosen for this year are Die Gezeichneten by Franz Schreker, which was done at the beginning of the Festival, and Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber. The Oberon production is a new one, and benefited from an outstanding staging, solid musical direction and appropriate casting.

There are two main problems with this opera, which is seldom performed. One issue is the dialogue (already out of date when the opera was premiered in 1826) which bring characters on stage who do not sing. The second problem lies in the huge difficulties that the score presents for the two main characters, Rezia and Huon.

Apparently, Weber intended to replace the dialogue with recitatives, as he had previously done in Euryanthe, but he died just two months after the premiere of the opera. There is no practical solution to the vocal difficulty: the parts of Rezia and Huon are written for dramatic voices, very demanding in the middle, and agility is important. To this should be added a particularly complicated tessitura for Huon.

This new production by Nikolaus Habjan is simple and interesting, and narrates the plot as a comedy, even if it isn’t a buffo opera. The superb direction of both soloists and chorus is particularly noteworthy, and he manages to instill some liveliness in the long dialogues. The characters who do not sing are played by large puppets that are handled by actors.

The first act is set in a computer room, where the experiments are carried out by Oberon and Titania. The scene of the shipwreck is nicely done, and the ocean with a mermaid present is particularly attractive.

The musical direction was in the hands of Ivor Bolton, the current musical director of Teatro Real in Madrid. This is not an easy opera to conduct: the stops are frequent and sometimes of long duration. Maestro Bolton did not shine here as much as he does in the Baroque repertoire, but overall it worked just fine.

Although he is not the title character, the real protagonist of the opera is Huon, who was interpreted by Brenden Gunnell. He has a powerful tenor and was able to handle the role’s impossible tessitura without resorting to falsetto.

Soprano Annette Dasch did well as Rezia. She is always a gifted interpreter on stage, although her voice is not extraordinary and somewhat tight on the high notes. Fatima, Rezia’s maidservant, was played by mezzo-soprano Rachael Wilson, who has an appealing, nicely handled voice.

Scherasmin, Huon’s servant, was properly interpreted by baritone Johannes Kammler. Oberon is a tenor with a lot of dialogue, and Julian Prégardien did well in the part. The part of Titania was correctly played by Alyona Abramowa.

Finally, soprano Anna El-Khashem shone in the mermaid song.

José M. Irurzun

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