Noilly Prattle: 3 nights at the Zurich Opernhaus

Friday, October 4, 2013

3 nights at the Zurich Opernhaus

Zurich Opernhaus (on the left) 
    We hadn't planned to go anywhere this summer while I was recovering from surgery and I had steeled myself to sweat out the execrably hot and humid Japanese summer at home. But one morning in the midst of the worst doggish days of this past summer we decided to get away from Japan after all since I felt my leg was mending well enough for a road test. We decided to head for Europe to catch the first few days of the Fall opera season at the end of September at the highly acclaimed Zurich Opernhaus--the culmination of a month's sojourn.

       The thing that stands out most in my mind about Zurich is the cost of everything--expensive. Too rich for my blood and wallet. We rented a studio flat conveniently located in the old city and within easy walking distance or a few tram stops to the opera house for four nights with shows on the first three nights--Rigoletto, La Straniera and Don Giovanni--all conducted by Fabio Luisi. 

Saimir Pirgu and Pink Feola
as Gilda and the Duke
        Many of the operas we had seen on videos that were taped in Zurich were of a very high quality overall. That is the main reason we wanted to attend some live performances there in spite of the very high price of the best seats. We booked seats in the medium price range online. Of the three shows we attended, the first one, Verdi's Rigoletto, was, for me, the best one. The cast, which included up and comer Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua was well matched with no weak voices. Coloratura soprano Pink Feola as Gilda gave a moving rendition of Caro Nome and baritone Andrzej  Dobber's rich voice and fine acting was both nuanced and powerful either in scorn and cynicism or in humility and abasement.  

principal cast of Rigoletto
Gruberova in the center as
the Strange Woman
        Bellini's La Straniera was, it seems to me, a project (not one of Bellini's best known or best operas) to accommodate the well known and loved but aging coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova. Though her voice is still a marvel, it is getting a bit rough around the edges and, to me at any rate, somewhat disappointing. (Road buddy, however, was more tolerant than I.) With a star of the magnitude of Gruberova, one hardly notices the other singers. Personally, I prefer a show of lesser known singers who work well together. With a star like Gruberova, although I don't believe she intends to, she upstages merely by her reputation and, of course, fan base.

Edita Gruberova
principal cast of La Straniera

Mark Verba and Marina Rebeka as
Don Giovanni and Donna Anna
        Mozart's Don Giovanni, is a difficult opera to produce since the principal roles require a cast that includes six perfectly matched singers--a feat not easy to achieve. Accordingly, this Don Giovanni with Mark Verba as the Don, was not a howling success with uneven performances throughout. In fact, Ruben Drole as Leporello would have been a better Don than Verba. His baritone was richer and more powerful in both the highs and lows. Soprano Marina Rebeka was excellent as Donna Anna, as was bass Rafal Siwek as the Commendatore. The tenor, Heidi (yes, it's a boy's name) Stober as Don Ottavio had a sweet enough voice but lacked power and authority in a very difficult role of lap dog and whipping boy. Julia Kleiter as Donna Elvira somehow missed the mark and gave a professional but, to me at least, unmoving performance--perhaps a bit too much anger and not enough ambivalence in her key aria In quali...Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata.

principal cast of Don Giovanni and conductor Fabio Luisi

Heidi Stober and Rafal Siwek as
Don Ottavio and the Commendatore

       In spite of its high repute as a world class opera house (and as I believed based on videos I had watched), I feel that the Zurich Opernhaus is no better and no worse than other houses I have attended in Munich, Santa Fe, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Berlin, Vienna (well maybe the Vienna Staatsoper is worse) at far more reasonable ticket prices (except Munich and Santa Fe). But, that's just a personal observation and preference.

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