As Berlin enters into its coldest month, we inaugurate a new feature, a monthly forecast of the operatic offerings in the Hauptstadt. If you’re not camping out at the Berlinale (or even if you are), we can guarantee that the place you most want to be in Berlin is inside a well-heated opera house for upwards of five hours. In that spirit, here’s our forecast for February 2014.
Let’s start with the Staatsoper, which is seeing its strongest season since they took up residence at the Schiller Theater in 2010. There aren’t any premieres this month, but the company’s recently opened production of Kat’a Kabanova stays in repertoire until Feb. 16. Andrea Breth’s creepy and alienating production is full of visually striking touches, but works against the opera’s interiority and heightened psychology. Luckily, maestro Simon Rattle and a fine cast that includes Eva Maria Westbroek, Deborah Polaski, Anna Lapkovskaja, Stephan Rügamer and Florian Hoffmann ensure a high level of musical accomplishment.
To say that Harry Kupfer’s production of Salome is clunky might be the understatement of the year. But this month’s revival sports a promising line-up of talent, including conductor Zubin Mehta and soprano Camilla Nylund in the punishing title role. Albert Dohmen’s Jochanaan should also be a treat worth looking forward to.
The season’s final performance of the imminently popular Ruth Berghaus production of Barbiere doesn’t boast any big names, but if you haven’t seen this delightfully and elegantly monochromatic production (think commedia dell’arte meets Bertolt Brecht), you owe it to yourself.
In mid-February, the company brings back Pet Halmen’s elegant staging of Aida, set in the British Museum amidst the collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, a clever concept that looks spectacular. Under Mehta’s aegis, it should also sound good too, especially seeing as it features the encouraging pairing of Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska and powerhouse tenor Johan Botha.
The final two productions on the month are two of the company’s mainstays, Traviata and Tosca, productions which I cannot in good faith recommend. That said, some of the casting does look promising, so go ahead and take a chance if you wish…
Over at the Deutsche Oper, there are two more opportunities to catch the rare revival of Filippo Sanjust’s sumptuous production of La Gioconda. As we mentioned in a post earlier this month, it’s a triumph of unabashed old-fashioned operatic histrionics, featuring excellent vocal performances, sets and choreography.
Christian Spuck directs and choreographs a new production of Berlioz’s dazzling opera-oratorio La damnation de Faust late in the month. No word yet on what Spuck’s take might be. If nothing else, though, this should be worth hearing regardless of the visuals, thanks to an A-list cast that includes Klaus Florian Vogt, Clémentine Margaine and Samuel Youn. Expect fireworks from the DOB’s tremendous musical director Donald Runnicles.
And speaking of Runnicles, he’s also conducting the revival of last season’s emotionally shattering Jenufa by Christof Loy, which returns for three performances with much of the same cast that helped make the premiere production such a triumph, including Michaela Kaune, Jennifer Larmore and Will Hartmann.
Neither of this month’s two Mozart revivals seem to boast extraordinary casts. The DOB’s Zauberflöte is very solid and wears its age well, but it pales in comparison to this city’s two other productions, the eminently classical reconstruction of Schinkel’s staging at the Staatsoper and the wacky-inventiveness of Barrie Kosky’s silent-film/pantomime/animation feast over at the Komische. I have yet to see the Gotz Friedrich staging of Figaro, but it looks like a determinedly old-fashioned / traditional take.
Katharina Thalbach’s witty and chaotic Barbiere, which plays for the last time this season on February 22, is the sort of “have your cake and eat it too” production that tries to be both traditional and contemporary and miraculously succeeds! If you don’t manage to make in on the 22nd, there’s a good chance this perennial favorite will be back before too long.
Lastly, my comments about the DOB’s Traviata would remain quite similar to what I said about the work at the SO. Again, the choice is yours.
Finally, the Komische Oper is bringing back two of its biggest blockbusters from the last two seasons, Zauberflöte and Handel’s Xerxes. You can read our recent post about Herheim’s extravagant and bold foray into baroque repertoire here. Kosky’s Zauberflöte, one of the loopiest and most deliriously entertaining things ever mounted on a Berlin stage, was one of the key reasons why his company was voted “Opera House of the Year” by the respected magazine Opernwelt.
Zauberflöte also features as part of the KOB’s upcoming “Children’s Opera Festival” (February 19 – 23), which finds the company mounting several of its recent forays into children’s territory, including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, which I have yet to see and therefore cannot comment on, and The Emperor’s New Clothes, a flamboyantly fashionable production of a posthumous work by Czech composer Milos Vacek, whose appeal is not limited to kiddies. The same can be said about last season’s production of Hänsel und Gretel, which seems to take a cue from David Lynch for some of its more disturbing visual details. Rounding out the festival program is former intendant Andreas Homoki’s much-loved production of Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges. And speaking of Prokofiev, there are two February performances of the company’s latest coup, an unsettling production of the little-seen Fiery Angel from the Australian theatrical director Benedict Andrews, performed it the original Russian.