Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Beethoven's 'Leonore' brings the 40th Dresden Music Festival to a thrilling conclusion

Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Ann Kern, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Ann Kern, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Beethoven Leonore; Miriam Clark, Eric Cutler, Christina Gansch, Martin Mitterutzner, Peter Rose, Michael Kupfer-Radecky
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on June 18 2017
Star rating: 4.5

The original version of Beethoven's opera in a thrilling performance which combined period instruments with modern interventions

Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Miriam Clark (photo Oliver Killig)
Miriam Clark (photo Oliver Killig)
The 40th Dresden Music Festival (Dresdner Musikfestspiele) concluded with a concert performance of Beethoven's Leonore (the original 1805 version of Fidelio) performed in the Kulturpalast, the new concert hall (opened April 2017) created within the shell of the old Soviet era Kulturpalast. Ivor Bolton conducted the period instrument Dresden Festival Orchestra, with soloists Miriam Clark, Eric Cutler, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Christina Gansch, Martin Mitterrutzner, Peter Rose and Tareq Nazmi. Also taking part with the festival's young artists, Bohème 2020, Joscha Baltes, Maja Blomstrand, Danae Dörken, Anne Kern, Romain Rios, and Robin Thomson.

Beethoven's opera was given without dialogue, but with a series of interventions from the artists of Bohème 2020, these ranged from dance episodes to video projections, with a substantial dance episode between Acts Two and Three performed to the first movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata Op.26.

Beethoven's 1805 version of the opera can come as a bit of a shock if you only know Fidelio. Leonore is longer, with more background to the Marzelline, Jacquino, Rocco, Leonore relationships. Closer to Singspiel than Fidelio, it requires two leads who have the right combination of spinto power, flexibility and stamina. I have to confess that having seen the opera staged at Buxton last year (see my review) I rather missed the dialogue, but the acute performances form the singers meant that we lost nothing of the emotional trajectory of the characters.

Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Romain Rios (photo Oliver Killig)
Romain Rios (photo Oliver Killig)
The new concert hall is an attractive combination of white, pale wood and vermilion, the irregular polygon-shaped auditorium provides good sight-lines and an acoustic which seems to combine clarity with a long-ish reverberation time. We certainly heard a wonderful amount of colour and detail from the Dresden Festival Orchestra, whilst the responsive acoustic never overwhelmed the singers. There were one or two balance issues, with the orchestra being a little too present, but that is something which familiarity will iron out.

Miriam Clark made a radiant Leonore, singing with bright flexible tone and displaying a real jugend-dramatisch voice. She had a vivid way of conveying Leonore's emotions both visually and musically; this was a very complete performance. It was the combination of her sheer engagement, with a cleanness of articulation in the more ornamental passages which really impressed. In 'Komm Hoffnung' she was complemented by some wonderfully pungent wind solos.

Eric Cutler made an admirable Florestan, youthful and heroic. This version of the role requires less heroic heft and more flexibility, which Cutler provided. His opening solo, following by a thrilling orchestra prelude, combined Cutler's noble, yet plangent tone with orchestral colour which made something both gripping and moving. This scene is far more conventionally operatic than in Fidelio, with Cutler, Clark and Peter Rose (Rocco) giving us a vivid sense of the dramatic narrative. In 'Namenlose Freude' (longer and more complex than in Fidelio), Cutler and Clark complemented each other admirably two lither voices moving together conveying a real sense of joy.



Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Eric Cutler, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Ivor Bolton, Eric Cutler, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Christina Gansch made a warmly characterful Marzelline, combining warmth with great personality and the ability to spin a lovely line. Peter Rose gave a beautifully mellifluous performance as Rocco, singing the role finely with less of the bluff buffo element than usual, yet with lively characterisation such as in the aria about the importance of money. Martin Mitterrutzner was quietly characterful as Jacquino.

Michael Kupfer-Radecky gave us a strong projected Don Pizzaro, taking advantage of the extra material particularly his vivid opening aria and the rousing aria with chorus which closes Act Two. Unfortunately his voice sometimes lacked the sheer heft to dominate the orchestra. Tareq Nazmi impressed with a very musical account of Don Fernando's relatively small contribution.

Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Christina Gansch, Ivor Bolton, Maja Blomstrand, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Christina Gansch, Ivor Bolton, Maja Blomstrand,
Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
This was a nicely balanced cast, so that the ensembles worked with both balance and clarity. It was a joy to hear the way the voices worked together in Beethoven's complex music. The closing scenes of the opera (more extended in this version) were delivered with a great sense of narrative. The ensemble which led up to 'Namenlose Freude' was wonderfully thrilling.

The Balthasar Neuman Choir made some notable contributions, singing with focused tone, intensity and great beauty of sound. The prisoner's chorus, with fine solos from Virgil Hartinger and Roland Faust, was beautifully controlled.

The orchestra was essentially an extra character in the drama. Ivor Bolton brought out all the wonderful details of colour and texture which the period instruments allowed to be reveal. This was a finely characterful account of the score, which emphasised Beethoven's links to his predecessors in the genre like Mozart and Cherubini.

Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Romain Rios, Maja Blomstrand, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Romain Rios, Maja Blomstrand, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Dresden Festival Orchestra
(photo Oliver Killig)
The contributions from the young artists of Bohème 2020 made an interesting complement to the performance. In the first half, some of these were almost too short to register and I really appreciated the moments when dancers Maja Blomstrand and Romain Rios combined with the performers. The more extended solo for Maja Blomstrand, performed to pianist Danae Dörken's performance of Beethoven, was particularly expressive yet not everyone would appreciate having the Beethoven piano sonata inserted between Acts Two and Three. Robin Thomson's videos suffered somewhat from not having a clear plane on which to be projected, but again they provided strong commentary. The combination of Bohème 2020 with the Dresden Festival Orchestra was an interesting experiment, and one which I hope the festival pursues in future years.

Beethoven Leonore
Dresden Music Festival at Dresden Kulturpalast
Leonore - Miriam Clark
Florestan - Eric Cutler
Jacquino - Michael Kupfer-Radecky
Marzelline - Christina Gansch
Don Pizzaro - Martin Mitterutzner
Rocco - Peter Rose
Don Fernando - Tareq Nazmi
Prisoners - Virgil Hartinger, Roland Faust

Bohème 2020:
Joscha Baltes (sound designer/musician)
Maja Blomstrand (dancer)
Danae Dörken (pianist)
Anne Kern (designer/painter)
Romain Rios (dancer/choreographer)
Robin Thomson.(video artist/musician)

Balthasar Neuman Choir (chorus director Detlef Bratschke)
The Dresden Festival Orchestra
Ivor Bolton (conductor)

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