As I have told my friends in Asia and the U.S., almost all the symphonic concerts and opera performances in Munich are sold out. There are usually some tickets reserved for students for Munich Philharmonic and Bavaria Radio Symphony Orchestra, but you definitely need to buy your tickets to the opera houses earlier. I regret that I didn’t realize how fast the tickets for German operas would go out, thus the only tickets I could get are the standing tickets for Italian operas, and I booked them a few weeks in advance. So too bad that no Der Fliegende Holländer, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Die Zauberflöte for me.
Over the weekend, I went to the Bavaria State Opera House for Madama Butterfly and La Traviata. It is interesting to see how good and bad this world class opera house could produce a production. The previous production that I had attended, Fidelio was actually not great other than the cubical stage that was movable. I remember that Zubin Metha had a hard time cutting off the trumpets and making them play together. So let’s talk about the orchestra first.
Overall, the orchestra was pretty good under Stefano Ranzani’s baton in Butterfly. The playing was powerful and engaging, very tight with the signers. One of the most obvious problems is the timpani, of course and the trumpets again. Maybe percussionists out there could help me with this, but I don’t think holding the mallets up in the air waiting for the conductor’s downbeat is a good idea. The truth is that he was late all the time, especially at the climaxes, which was a complete turn off. At the end of Cio-Cio San’s final aria, when she sang: “guarda ben!”, and the ff chord where she killed herself, the timpanist came in late at both climaxes. Seriously, that ruins the entire opera.
When the trumpets were playing in Fidelio, it was understandable to be a little frustrated to play I-V-I-V…., and maybe forgot to look at the conductor since the parts are extremely easy. But for Butterfly, they still ignored the conductor. At the beginning of Act III (Or Act II scene 2), there are many nice melodic lines where the trumpets are in unison with the 1st violin and sometimes with the winds as well, but they were playing all by themselves and were off with the others by half a beat. At the same spot mentioned above, the “guarda ben!”, they didn’t wait for neither the conductor nor Cio-Cio San’s “Amore…” but hit the f# minor chord earlier than anybody else. That being said, after the timpani hit the b minor ff chord late, in the same measure the trumpet pushed Cio-Cio San’s high “A” fermata early. That was a tragic and I would have killed myself if I were Cio-Cio San at that point.
Strings were pretty good on Saturday evening (Butterfly), but were quite awful on Sunday evening (Traviata). Just right at the beginning of the show of Traviata, some violinists played D natural at m.15. Although it is not “extremely”obvious that the prelude is in E major (marked 4 sharps?!) but even if you think it sounds more like B major (dominant key), you still need to play D#. And when it gets really obvious that it’s in E major, some 1st violins played A# when it should be A natural. Maybe that foreshadowed that the entire Traviata was a joke.
The orchestra on Sunday evening was not energetic, unlike Saturday night, the sound was not blending and with no spirit at all under Henrik Nánási’s baton. However, the timpanist and brass section were pretty alert, mostly in time and gave ways to the young singers on stage. Although I am not 100% sure, but the off stage banda and chorus sounded like pre-recorded and not live performance. Can we consider that as cheating? Well, more details about this low cost production coming up soon.