Monday 7 January 2019

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Muzak

Festspielzentrum, Erl, Austria
Festspielzentrum, Erl, Austria
New Year’s Eve Opera Gala (Silvesterkonzert) / New Year’s Day concert (Neujahrskonzert)
Orchester und Chorakademie der Tiroler Festspiele Erl conducted by Beomseok Yi and Oksana Lyniv 
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 1 January 2019 
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A couple of concerts that proved a brilliant turn-of-the-year affair in the company of an adorable Austrian-based audience simply mesmerised by the Blue Danube

You wouldn’t get a better musical offering to see out the old year and welcome the new than these two concerts by the Orchester und Chorakademie der Tiroler Festspiele Erl at the Erl Festspielhaus pitched in a beautiful setting and surrounded by a snow-covered mountainous landscape that more than painted a pretty picture highlighting the majestic beauty of the Austrian Tyrol in all its consummate winter glory.

The New Year’s Eve Opera Gala (Silvesterkonzert) - peppered with four orchestral pieces - more than showed off the prowess and fine playing of the Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele Erl under South Korean-born conductor, Beomseok Yi. The rousing overture to Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla got the concert off to a spirited start while energetic performances of the ‘Sinfonia’ from Verdi’s Luisa Miller and the ‘Intermezzo’ from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut added to the overall excitement of the evening.

If the orchestra found themselves on top form so did the quartet of singers engaged for this significant concert of Erl’s winter festival which was established in 2012. Not only did they end the year on a high but so did the audience. The Australian-born baritone, James Roser, delivered a brilliant reading of the aria ‘Nemico della Patria’ from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier and successfully teamed up with the Chinese-born tenor, Hui Jin, for a dramatic reading of that well-loved duet from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore - ‘Venti scudi’.

Georgian-born, Sophie Gordeladze, sparkled in Leonora’s aria ‘Tacea la note placida’ from Verdi’s Il trovatore with her high soprano voice capturing the piece so clear and convincingly while the Italian-born mezzo-soprano, Alena Sautier, coquettish, sultry looking and frightfully good-looking, proved the perfect choice to sing the gypsy song (‘Les tringles des sistres tintaient’) from Bizet’s Carmen. She was also heard to extremely good effect in ‘Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix’ (Softly awakes my heart) - Saint-Saens’ popular aria from Samson and Delilah.

Everything was bubbling in this concert with an audience in raptures but none more so that when Hui Jin took to the stage for a rendering of ‘Una furtive lagrima’ from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, the second piece to be performed in this concert by this composer and, likewise, the same with Sophie Gordeladze and James Roser passionately singing the famous duet from Verdi’s Luisa Miller - ‘La tomba e un letto sparso di fiori’.

The orchestra delivered a fiery rendition of Manuel De Falla’s ‘El sombrero de tres picos' from the ballet The Three Cornered Hat which was a perfect ending to a jubilant and entertaining concert that more than left an excited audience wanting more. They got it, too, with the famous ‘Quartet’ from Rigoletto with the soloists delivering a dramatic and powerful reading of Verdi’s well-loved piece especially by Hui Jin, whose soaring tenor voice was strong, dramatic and precise to the nth degree.

The New Year’s Day concert (Neujahrskonzert) found the Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele Erl under Oksana Lyniv (who the previous night was conducting the Silvesterkonzert in the Festspielhaus, Baden Baden - a busy girl!) joined by the Chorakademie der Tiroler Festspiele Erl, an excellent ensemble of just over 40 singers well-drilled by Olga Yanum and heard to good effect in Handel’s exhilarating Coronation Anthem Zadok the Priest and Rossini’s ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ from Petite Messe Solennelle while members of the male chorus sounded strong and robust in their reading of the ‘Chorus’ from Carl Maria von Weber’s romantic opera, Der Freischütz.

The concert, however, got off to a lively and rousing start by Franz von Suppé’s Light Cavalry overture with the military trumpet fanfare, later taken up by the horns, filling the auditorium with joy! The Galloping Major here I come, I thought, while the Household Cavalry’s ‘Musical Ride’ swept through my mind. This was New Year’s Day stuff through and through and the Austrian-based audience lapped up every note but none more so than when the orchestra burst forth in a richly-textured performance of Johann Strauss’ most-famous number, the Blue Danube Waltz. Every note counted!

Every note counted, too, in a medley of Mozart’s operas delightfully heard in Joseph Lanner’s light-hearted piece Die Mozartisten while the chorus was heard to good effect in the Wunderkind of Salzburg’s ‘Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit, Schlusschor aus’ from Die Zauberflöte.

The orchestra was absolutely riding high in this concert especially in their account of Rossini’s overture to Semiramide while Ms Lynix (who has just been appointed Chefdirigentin der Grazer Oper und des Philharmonischen Orchestrers Graz) was firmly in control stylishly dressed in a white-silk frock-coat with trousers to match and, at times, ‘balletic’ on the platform.

But it was Johann Strauss who grabbed the fancy of the sell-out audience not least by the Blue Danube but also by excellent renditions of Kaiser Franz Josef I - Rettungs-Jubel-March and Im Sturmschritt while Unter Donner and Blitz set the stage alight with the cymbal and bass-drum players proving a good double-act in the ‘fireworks’ department while the encore piece, Khachaturian’s fiery, melodic and entertaining Sabre Dance found the orchestra on fire and the audience, too, judging by their thunderous curtain call.

Where was Der Radetzky-Marsch? I guess that was in Vienna? But, hey, wait a minute, Vienna was also in Erl. Full stop!

Although seemingly in the middle of nowhere Erl - an inspirational place to visit - is about an hour’s train journey from Munich, Innsbruck (the capital of the Tyrol) and Salzburg. Historically speaking, Erl’s renowned for its ‘Passion Play’ which has been told and retold in this tiny Tyrolean village since the early 17th century and staged on a six-yearly cycle. With a script by the renowned Tyrolean author Felix Mitterer and music by Wolfram Wagner the Passion Play comes round this year running from May to October.

Dr Gustav Kuhn, who founded Tiroler Festspiele Erl in 1997 with a performance of Wagner’s epic four-work cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen has now retired and been replaced by 65-year-old German opera director, Bernd Loebe, who’ll direct the festival alongside his duties as Intendant of Frankfurt Opera. Gladly, a new Ring cycle comes round in 2021 with Das Rheingold staged by the German mezzo-soprano opera-singer and stage director, Brigitte Fassbaender, whom from 1999 to 2012 was Intendant of the Tyrolean State Theatre at Innsbruck. Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung follow in subsequent years with the full cycle coming together in 2024.

Surrounded by mountains, pastureland and those lovely traditionally-built Alpine wooden houses, the Festspielhaus (largely funded by the Haselsteiner Family Private Foundation who covered the lion’s share of the building costs of 36 million euros) stands proud within the natural environment of the area while its bold and striking black façade, comprising a host of geometrical fibre-cement panels, is seen in stark contrast to the white-painted Corbusier-style curved façade of the Passionspielhaus.

The setting mirrors the same naturalism and beauty that one encounters at Bayreuth therefore it’s no wonder that the cultural fraternity of the region - as well as a huge international contingent - flock to Erl for a feast of classical music and opera. I’m glad to be counted as one of them. I was here last summer for a performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle and I hope to be here this summer to attend Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ and Rossini’s ‘Guillaume Tell’ among other things plus a couple of concerts that has grabbed my fancy by Die Camerata Salzburg.

Check out the full and detailed programme at Erl by visiting

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Ancient and modern: Liam Byrne, a viola da gamba and a laptop at Baroque at the Edge (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Diverse tapestry: Clare Norburn's Burying the Dead at Baroque at the Edge (★★★★) - music theatre review
  • Rediscovering her Polish musical roots: violinist Jennifer Pike on the personal connections in her latest disc, The Polish Violin - interview 
  • Strong and vibrant: Tallis masses and motets from the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court (★★★★) - CD review
  • Bach's Goldberg Variations - CD review
  • 2018 in opera and concert reviews - article
  • Concerto for silent soloists: my encounter with Gavin Sutherland, music director of English National Ballet - interview
  • That Old Thing: remembering Covent Garden's revivals of historic productions in the 1980s - article
  • The Medieval Tendency - article
  • Bach's Christmas Oratorio at the St John's Smith Square Christmas Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • Illuminating a neglected work: John Andrews & the BBC Concert Orchestra revive Sir Arthur Sullivan's sacred oratorio, The Light of the World  (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Seasonal touches: The Tallis Scholas & Peter Phillips at St John's Smith Square's Christmas Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • The Dead City: Robert Carsen's production of Korngold's Die tote Stadt at the Komische Oper, Berlin  (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Cause for Celebration: Roxanna Panufnik on the Last Night of the Proms & commemorating the Centenary of Polish Independence - interview
  • Home

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