Neue Oper Wien, Museumsquartier

Křenek, Pallas Athena Weint

I like the music of Ernst Křenek. Thonight’s performance of Pallas Athena Weint by the Neue Oper Wien was well done and I am glad I heard it… once.  However, there is a reason this opera never succeeded, and it wasn’t the musicians.

Křenek wrote both the music and the libretto, freely adapting stories very loosely based on characters from ancient Athens (VERY loosely).  His concept was to use these characters to make some sort of modern political statement influenced by the McCarthyism he was observing in 1950s America (where he wrote this) and of course his pre-War experiences in Europe.  But he avoided making any direct analogies, and the allegory did not really end up explaining anything.  There were certainly a lot of unpleasant tragic figures, with the plot sometimes having moments of cynical comedy eliciting laughs from the audience followed by a dark afterthought that maybe we shouldn’t be laughing.

This was all set to music that was perfectly fine, if twelve-tonal, but fit the mood well enough.  But if the plot had no drive, then the music needed to, and it did not either.  So both the music and the plot came across dense enough, while also managing to feel superficial.  

Tonight’s staging did what it could.  The set was evocative rather than realistic, which fit well.  The costumes were undefined – not really timeless, but mixed (although not ancient Greek, but they really did not need to be).  I found no logic to them but they also did not disturb.  The blocking allowed the cast to act.

Of the cast, Franz Gürtelschmied, as Alcibiades, stood out.  Very young, he recently emerged from the Young Singers Project of the Salzburg Festival, and is a name to look out for.  His voice projected clearly and cleanly, with a strident dramatic tone.  Klemens Sander as Socrates also gave an especially strong reading.  In the pit, Walter Kobéra led an idiomatic reading in front of the Tonkünstler Orchester, which continues to make a case for itself as a fine regional orchestra and which handled the difficult chromatics with ease.

The performance took place in the auditorium of Vienna’s Museumsquartier.  This is a strange place and probably added to the discombobulation as it proved a poor venue.  The Museumsquartier project has been a great success as an exhibition and events space in Vienna, but it always has a somewhat peculiar alternative feel, and never seems ready for anything serious.  So little things stood out: programs priced at odd amounts (3.30 Euros) but the ushers selling the programs were not provided sufficient change; the people “working” half of the coat room stood around refusing to accept coats and forcing everyone into a long line (and a panic as to whether we’d get through the line before the performace started) – and then the amount they were charging for the coat check which appeared on the table at the front of the line (1.20 Euros) did not match the amount on the sign visible to everyone waiting in line (1 Euro – it’s not the price that was the problem, but that everyone in line had taken out one Euro to save time, and then arrived at the front and had to fumble around for the extra 20 cents or get the checkers to make change, which made the bottleneck worse); then of course poor signposting made it hard to find anything.  The auditorium itself is actually fine for the purpose, but uncomfortable (and may even be temporary, with rows of cheap seats going up an incline).  The production used screens to project the words, which was helpful at times, but instead of supertitles (as seems to be the norm these days) they put a screen on either side of the stage meaning to read the words required looking away from the action, which was distracting and caused me to lose the flow.  The screens were also small – I was relatively close in and could see them, but I’d imagine that higher up they were unreadable.  None of these little things was serious, but together as a collection they added up, and I would not recommend this venue until it gets its own act together.

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Tonkünstler Orchestra, Musikverein

Beethoven, Dean

A few things converged to bring me to the Musikverein this afternoon: I realized I had not been to a concert there this winter; it has been a longer while since I last heard the Tonkünstler Orchestra, a pleasant provincial orchestra from Lower Austria that I came to enjoy when visiting Vienna from Kosovo back in the day; and trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger reliably introduces audiences to new repertory with flawless technique.

Today’s program opened with a spirited Leonore Overture Nr. 3 by Beethoven. Conductor John Storgårds coaxed dramatic playing all around, particularly from the flutes. The fondness for Beethoven continued in the concert’s finale, with the under-performed gem of his Eighth Symphony. The Beethoven 8 is his smallest and shortest symphony, and often overlooked, but although it took a more classical form at first look, a deeper examination such as today’s brought out the nuances Beethoven had developed as he revolutionized music. The performance on the whole was nothing special, but the sound was balanced and the playing fine, to get the message out.

On the other hand, Australian composer Brett Dean’s Dramatis Personae trumpet concerto, which he wrote on commission for this orchestra and soloist, came across contrived. Hardenberger is excellent, and if Dean wanted someone to interpret his work he could not have done better. But the only way to understand this piece was to read the program notes, and even then its meaning was unclear. The music either needs to be able to speak for itself (especially in able hands), or the program must tell a story that allows the listener to follow along. In this case, the whole composition failed.

Dean’s music was not unpleasant, just unintelligible even with the program. Dean said he chose to write a trumpet concerto inspired by Beethoven’s Leonore fanfare – the trumpet having something to announce. But it remains unclear what he was announcing. After some odd percussive opening, the first recognizable music in the first movement was reminiscent of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony gone awry. After moving through several adventures and misadventures, the trumpet hero ended up in the urban landscape of Charles Ives. But Ives needed no program. This is probably not a piece I need to hear again in the hopes of understanding it better, but hearing Hardenberger attempt these works is always a pleasure.

Tonkünstlerorchester, Musikverein

Britten, R. Strauss, Elgar, Sibelius

Came into Vienna for a conference and other meetings this week.  Decided to pop into the Musikverein unplanned for what looked like good program of the Tonkünstlerorchester: early and rarely-performed works by Benjamin Britten and Richard Strauss, and Elgar’Enigma Variations.

I had not realized the history behind Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, for which he received a large commission from the Japanese Emperor for a major festive work and instead wrote a melancholic orchestral work inspired by the Catholic mass for the dead.  Better to decline the commission than to still accept the money but insult the Emperor for the sake of artistic expression.

The piece, however, is of quite high quality and although I cannot remember seeing it on other concert programs (although I am familiar with it through a recording), it led to a number of other commissions as Britten’s career took off.  This afternoon, Danish conductor Michael Schønwandt gave a full-bodied reading.  He may be unfamiliar with the acoustics in the Golden Hall, since although he clearly wanted to accentuate the rich lines of individual instruments, he kept the rest of the orchestra playing thickly, meaning the sounds tended to blur.  In this hall, such an approach is not necessary to achieve a full sound.

Richard Strauss grew up as the son of the most celebrated hornist of his day, and he clearly understood the instrument.  So did the Czech soloist Radek Baborák.  The expressiveness appeared to grow from Mozart’s four horn concerti, augmented with late-classical and early-romantic developments from Schubert or Schumann or Mendelssohn, which Baborák approached with versatility, character, and charm.  The soloists within the orchestra complemented his playing, and with Schønwandt’s approach good dialogues developed between Baborák and the orchestral soloists.  Baborák gave us a little encore as well (although his announcement to introduce what it was was not audible, at least his horn was).

Unlike the first two works, Elgar’s Enigma Variations are often performed and a bit of a warhorse.  It remains a lovely work.  Tonight’s concert lacked the English sentimentality usually heard with this work, but the Tonkünstler nevertheless played it well.  Once again, some of the section soloists had wonderful lines, which Schønwandt allowed them to augment, particularly the first flute and first cello.  Schønwandt capped off the concert with the Valse Triste by Sibelius, which the orchestra did play sentimentally and with a melancholic lilt.

Tonkünstlerorchester, Musikverein

Tschaikowsky, Petrovski, Schostakowitsch

After he survived the Siege of Leningrad, and after the Red Army turned back the Germans at Stalingrad, the Russian government sent Dmitri Schostakowitsch off somewhere quiet to compose a new symphony.  The Communist officials expected him to produce a triumphant work, and he gave them something triumphant – just not in the way that they meant.  The Eighth Symphony is dark and not quite optimistic, showing that although Schostakowitsch was pleased his county had turned the tide against the enemy, that triumph in reality only represented the victory of one evil empire over another.  The score came out heavily mechanized, but contains wonderful solo lines throughout the orchestra, often showing great humor (if too often crushed).  The triumph here was not that of the Red Army, but rather of the human soul, able somehow to survive under oppression.  Even the citizens of eternally-dismal Russia deserve freedom and a voice.  The regime responded by banning performances of this symphony for over a decade.

 

Orchestras sometimes get wrapped up the the industrial machine that churns out this symphony, but in a good performance they savor their lines and produce the little individual expressions of dissent that Schostakowitsch cherished.  The Tonkünstler Orchestra managed that today in the Musikverein, under the controlled direction of Michail Jurowski.  The elder Jurowski, who continues to age and looked extremely pale, no longer possesses the vigor he used to, but communicated to the orchestra with dextrous contortions of his baton and expressive fingers.  If I am around, I happily seek out his annual appearances in Vienna with this orchestra.

 

Speaking of expressive fingers, Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski mastered Tschaikowsky’Piano Concerto in the first half of the concert, establishing a spirited dialogue with the orchestra.  As an encore, Trpčeski and the Tonkünstler’s concertmaster Alexander Gheorghiu, and the twinkles in their eyes, joined forces for a charming work by Macedonian composer Soni Petrovski, which sounded like a cross between jazz and Balkan Gypsy music, with a bit of Stravinsky thrown in for good measure.  What fun.

Tonkünstler Orchestra, Musikverein

Beethoven, Schubert

Back-to-back concerts in the Musikverein. For the first concert, the Tonkünstler with Thomas Zehetmair on the bump, Zehetmair played the violin solo for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto while conducting. He has a sweet tone, perhaps not with enough precision if he intends to have that sound. But he did give a spirited performance. Rather than using the full forces of the Tonkünstler, he assembled a reduced-sized chamber ensemble on stage, which in the acoustics of the Golden Hall gave the performance some intimacy. He took the tempi somewhat fast, but this worked with the smaller orchestral size to keep the overall mood spirited.

Beethoven never wrote down the cadenze for this concerto, since that had not yet become the practice, but the Fritz Kreisler cadenze have become standard: however, Zehetmair opted for a new approach, perhaps more in the spirit of Bethovenian free-improvisation. The cadenza in the first movement worked best due to an ingenious touch: tympani. The typani have the concerto’s first notes and sets the whole work in motion, so allowing the typani to engage in a dialogue with the solo violin in the midst of the cadenza developed the concept further with intelligence.

Schubert’s Sixth Symphony made up the concert’s second half. This is a hit-or-miss work. There is nothing inherently wrong with this symphony, but its blend of styles could either give it special meaning or just leave without any particular meaning. Even if well-played, as it was here (by the same chamber forces of the reduced orchestra), it is hard to make it rousing. It can happen, but not today.

Tonkünstler Orchestra, Musikverein

Balakirev, Dvořák, Tschaikowsky

I took in one last concert in Vienna before leaving full-time for Albania.  The Tonkünstler took to the Musikverein stage under Mikhail Jurowski.  Poor Jurowski looks unwell: he’s gained weight, moves slowly, and walks with a cane – he seems to communicate more with his eyes than with his stick motion (which is now limited).

Of course, he looks better than the Israeli pianist Alexander Markovich.  I heard this combination Jurowski-Markovich-Tonkünstler a few years ago, which was so much fun that it got me to go back for more this time.  Markovich is still obese, and continues to play sitting far away from the piano with his arms reaching over his more-than-ample stomach.  But he keeps a wry smile on his face and a light touch on the keyboard, and the joy he takes from playing is contagious.  He and Jurowski communicated well with each other.  They performed the Dvořák piano concerto – which is seldom-performed for a reason.  the work is not bad, but not great either.  Still, I am happy to hear something new, and Dvořák had far more to say than some other people.

The concert had opened with Balakirev’s youthful Overture on Three Russian Themes.  This was quite pleasant, and demonstrated the skill Balakirev would later develop, often under-appreciated in the west, of producing quality and authentic Russian music.  Two of the three themes were later made more famous from settings by Tschaikowsky (in his Fourth Symphony) and Stravinsky (in his Petrushka), but did not lose anything by comparison in Balakirev’s arrangement.

After the intermission, the concert concluded with Tschaikowsky’s Second Symphony.  This has long been my favorite Tschaikowsky symphony, probably because it is the most authentic and least western (western composers did western music better than Tschaikowsky, and some of Tschaikowsky’s best works were the ones in which he did not try to imitate the west).  The orchestra sounded a little ragged for this one, but the reads, strings, and piccolo were generally good.  A red-haired flautist (in my direct line of view behind Jurowski’s shoulder through my binoculars) looked bored out of her wits the whole evening.

Tonkünstler Orchestra, Musikverein

Schubert, Saint-Saëns

Andrés Orozco-Estrada, a Vienna-trained Colombian who has actually been music director of the Tonkünstler Orchestra for the past three years (and in Vienna for several years prior to that) but whom I have somehow missed, tonight took the podium in the Musikverein at the head of his orchestra for a nice pre-Christmas concert.  On the program were two works that had nothing to do with Christmas, nor with each other for that matter.  But he made the orchestra sound full and in good spirit.

For the first half of the program, the orchestra performed Schubert’s Mass #5.  From this performance, it was easy to see how Schubert had inspired Bruckner – a full Catholic mass that retained its mystical spirituality while moving from the church into a concert hall.  Of course, it helps that the concert hall in question was the Musikverein, a cathedral of music.  The Wiener Singverein filled the space to the rafters with drama, mystery, and passion.  Schubert did not write much church music, and in his day it was forbidden to perform church music outside the church, but in this relatively late Schubert piece (written only two years before his death, albeit he died when he was only 31) the composer remained respectful of the religious origins of the mass while still augmenting it as a stand-alone musical piece.

It could serve either as church or concert music.  Although I am familiar with Schubert’s final mass, the even larger #6, I had not previously experienced this one, but would gladly do so again, especially with such a compelling performance as this.

The second half of the program featured the Symphony #3, with Organ, by Saint-Saëns.  Saint-Saëns lived for 86 years, but never before nor after wrote a piece quite like this.  Indeed, this piece is unique in musical literature, and demonstrates originality and talent.  One wonders why this composer, whose talents were well known and appreciated in his own lifetime, turned out so little music of lasting impact.  For whatever reason, he still managed to produce this symphony on a commission from the Royal Philharmonic in London, inspired by the tone poems of Ferenc Liszt and dedicated to the memory of the recently-deceased Hungarian master, including, at its high point, a thrilling major adaptation of the Dies Irae chant.  Once again, the Tonkünstler took up the challenge.  Orozco-Estrada kept the music pushing forward to its thrilling climaxes, never rushing but giving just enough drive and momentum to ensure that the piece got an honest and exciting reading.

I did not notice the extraneous high-pitched tone from the organ this time, which I had heard last time when the organist played from the stage-based organ consul instead of directly at the organ.  So either they fixed whatever the problem was, or I happened to be sitting in the wrong seat last time where the acoustics brought that extraneous pitch to my ear.

One problem I could not blame on the hall was the Japanese tourist sitting in the row in front of me, who could obviously afford to buy a ticket here from Japan but somehow could not afford a belt or underwear (let alone both).  Every time she popped up to take a photo (quite a few times throughout the evening), her pants fell down.

Tonkünstler Orchestra, Musikverein

Grieg, Martinsson, Sibelius

Back-to-back concerts today at the Musikverein (they still make you check your coat separately for each concert, though).

First up was the Tonkünstler performing an all-Scandinavian concert under John Storgårds.  They opened with Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time.  An all-string piece, the Tonkünstler strings produced a very sweet sound with a pleasant lilt.  Because four of the five movements actually derived from dances, this interpretation stressed the rhythms quite nicely, providing an extra layer of charm on these miniatures.

“Bridge”- a trumpet concerto by Rolf Martinsson, a contemporary Swedish composer (who may have been in the audience – the trumpeter motioned very clearly to someone during the applause, but that person did not stand up or bow) followed.  I have not decided if I liked the piece or not, but at least the composer had something intelligent to say.  Martinsson seemed unsure if he intended to be post-romantic or post-atonal, alternating between the styles, but he did clearly intend to put in place a foundation to allow the trumpeter to be a virtuoso.  He had indicated that so few trumpet concerti had been written in the last couple of centuries because of the nature of the instrument and the developments in music, and therefore he intended to provide a modern piece that would work for virtuoso trumpet.  In this he succeeded, with the help of trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger (for whom he originally wrote the piece in 1998).  Hardenberger had a bright and clear tone, and the skill to jump around the range.  In general, the orchestra would set a post-romantic mood, and then interrupt it with some atonality (or mild tonality), where the trumpet would jump in.  Perhaps the one section that did not work was when the score called for the solo trumpet to be muted, as dampening the sound of the solo instrument defeated some of the purpose of a trumpet concerto.  On the whole, however, I am always glad to hear intelligent modern music that still qualifies as music.

After the intermission, Storgårds treated us to an unusual interpretation of Sibelius’ Second Symphony.  At first, I did not understand what he was trying to achieve, but it slowly grew on me.  Having heard the strings sounding so sweet for the Grieg at the start of the concert, I was initially concerned when they opened the Sibelius sounding bitter.  The winds entered, also not sounding completely smooth.  But Storgårds plugged away at a deliberate slow pace, and the tonalities emerged.  The strings provided the base mood, upon which the wind instruments could construct their chorales.  This was a little bit of Bruckner – Sibelius’ favorite living composer when he studied in Vienna – emerging.  As the symphony went on, the emotion grew, right up to the final drawn-out chorale.  A successful performance of Sibelius must come across cold and dark, so that the listener considers drowning himself in the nearest frozen lake, but does not actually commit suicide because of the realization that, once dead, he will never again be able to hear the music of Sibelius.  I’d say Storgårds accomplished that feeling for this audience.

Tonkünstler Orchestra, Musikverein

Schostakowitsch, Wagner, Strauss

The Tonkünstler Orchestra, conducted by Claus Peter Flor, opened its program in the Musikverein with Schostakowitsch‘s 15th Symphony, a sarcastic work in which he reviewed his own life and forebode his own death (although he lived another four years, this was his last major work).  During the fourth movement, shortly after the quotation from the Todesverkündigung in the Second Act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, a woman near the front waved in the ushers.  They waved in more ushers, and then carried out another woman’s body, which was scarily rather stiff.  I suppose if you are going to go, going in the Musikverein during a concert right after the annuciation of death is probably as good a way as any. (Word later was that she recovered.)

That woman’s timing was better than anyone else on the evening.  Flor kept missing beats and cues.  Michael Jurowski last week had this orchestra together during the very difficult Prokofiev 2nd Piano Concerto, but Flor obviously is not as talented.  Ironically, Michael Jurowski was the rehearsal conductor for the premiere of Schostakowitsch’s 15th Symphony back in 1971.

After the intermission came the Immolation from Götterdaemmerung, with Angela Denoke singing Brünhilde.  She is good, but again the orchestra wasn’t together.  Flor also had the balance all off, and was too loud when he should not have been, almost drowning her out at the softer moments.  The Tonkünstler rarely play Wagner (or operatic music in general), so this is unfamiliar territory for them, and Flor did not help.  At least no one died during the second half of the concert.  (Denoke gave us the song Zueignung by Richard Strauss as an encore.)

 

Tonkünstler Orchestra, Musikverein

Glinka, Prokofiev, Dvořák

My second concert of the day in the Musikverein featured the Tonkünstler-Orchester under Mikhail Jurowski.

The concert opened with Glinka‘s Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila, followed by Prokofiev‘s Second Piano Concerto, with Alexander Markovich, an obese Russian-born Israeli as soloist (because of his stomach, he can’t actually sit near the piano; fortunately his arms reach).  I did not know this concerto at all – never heard it before – and I dislike pianos generally.  But this was a find.  The piece is truly bizarre.  Markovich is a very charismatic performer with a twinkle in his eye.  I have no idea how the orchestra could manage staying together given the way the music jumps about, but Jurowski kept everything working.  Really a stunning performance, and they all (soloist, conductor, orchestra) deserved the thunderous applause.

After the intermission came a very good Dvořák 8th Symphony.  The Tonkünstler (which seemed enthusiastic and happy to be on stage) actually sounded better than the last two Symphoniker concerts I attened, which made me wonder even more what is going on with the Symphoniker right now.

Highlights from 2008

Highlights

Prior to 2010 I did not write regularly.  I found most records from 2009 (now posted on this blog), but right now the only reliable musical notes from 2004-2008 are in my annual year-end highlight summaries, so I am posting these until I locate more in my archives.

Less travel and more time in Vienna meant I enjoyed even more live music than usual this year.

Best performance: Schostakowitsch, Symphony Nr. 8, Wiener Symphoniker, Vladimir Fedoseyev (November). Not among the more-often performed of Schostakowitsch’s symphonies, the anguished Eighth captures Schostakowitsch’s personality and mindset well. Written to commemorate the Red Army driving the Germans out of Russia, the undertone is that the Soviet regime was also ghastly, so the work was banned in Russia for many years. A moving performance, quite devastating in segments.

Runner up: Berlioz, Grande Messe des Morts, RSO Wien, Bertrand de Billy (November). I had forgotten just how immense this work was. Not sure the chorus even had room to inhale, they were so packed onto the Musikverein stage. The orchestra did not fit on the stage, so extended over the first few rows as well as into the first parterre loges on each side. The four brass choirs (in addition to the regular oversized brass section in the orchestra itself) were placed around the hall. Berlioz intended the piece, although bombastic, to be performed as church music and not as a concert requiem. De Billy clearly understood this and kept the lid on. The singing soared from the combined chorus of both the Wiener Singverein and the Wiener Singakademie.

Best concert venue: Occupation Museum, Tallinn (May). Visiting the Estonian Occupation Museum, I was invited to stay on after closing time for a concert with a rather odd quartet (soprano, flute, cello, and a glockenspiel-like instrument) performing modern, mostly Estonian, music. Between each piece the quartet moved around the museum and the audience had to carry our folding chairs from place to place, surrounded by Soviet-era memorabilia.

Most disappointing performance: Beethoven, Symphony Nr. 2 / Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Göteborgs Symfoniker, Gustavo Dudamel, Vienna (October). If it had been a student orchestra, I would have been impressed. The much-hyped Dudamel (whom I watched from a balcony seat over the stage, where I could observe his peculiar technique) had clear passion and sense for palette, but the performance was far too sloppy for such an orchestra. Dudamel is the music director in Gothenborg, and thus can and should be held personally responsible. I cannot tell if Dudamel will gain more control as he gets older or will turn into Zubin Mehta (charismatic and capable of getting occasional exciting performances, but otherwise dreadfully boring and absolutely disastrous for orchestral discipline).

Worst performances: Nielsen, Violin Concerto / Bruckner, Symphony Nr. 6, Tonkünstler Orchester, Kristjan Järvi, Vienna (November). Nielsen is neither original nor interesting. Järvi demonstrated absolutely no feel for Bruckner. Dvořák, Cello Concerto, Daniel Müller-Schott, Wiener Symphoniker, Yakov Kreizberg (April). Müller-Schott’s uninspired solo work put me to sleep. Woke up after the intermission for a spirited Dvořák Sixth Symphony.

Best opera and most fun at the opera (winning both categories this year): R. Strauss, Capriccio, Staatsoper, Vienna (October). A rarely-performed esoteric work, the entire plot (in one act lasting nearly three hours) concerns whether music or text is more important to opera. No kidding. The opera’s seemingly unpromising plot was supported by witty text set to glorious music. The simple staging was well-considered and with good direction. Renee Fleming headed a superb cast, conducted by Philippe Jordan. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Runner-up for best opera: Verdi, Simon Boccanegra, Staatsoper, Vienna (September). A moody piece, not performed often enough. Not tuneful by Verdi standards, but with a plot resembling Gilbert and Sullivan. Thankfully, Verdi let Arrigo Boito fix up the libretto and made Boccanegra version #2 into good drama, if properly performed (as here).

Runner-up for most fun at the opera: Benatzky, Im Weißen Rößl, Kammerspiele, Vienna (May). The classic 1920s Austrian comedy, here performed cabaret-style on a small stage with a three-person orchestra.

Worst opera production: Wagner, Lohengrin, Staatsoper, Vienna (May). The performance, conducted by Peter Schneider, would have been great if I had kept my eyes closed. They should have saved the expense of a staged production and just done a concert performance, since the cast generally wore formal concert attire anyway. Of all the bizarre things on stage, the director left out the one thing which must be there: the swan (explaining in the program notes that this central figure was actually unnecessary). The imbecilic director was not German, but – to no surprise – trained in Berlin. I think I have to stop going to operas directed by people who have even visited Germany.

Highlights from 2005

Highlights

Prior to 2010 I did not write regularly.  I found most records from 2009 (now posted on this blog), but right now the only reliable musical notes from 2004-2008 are in my annual year-end highlight summaries, so I am posting these until I locate more in my archives.

Best opera: Dmitri Schostakowitsch, Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, Hungarian National Opera (October). I have wanted to see this opera for many years, and found this straightforward production and repertory cast quite satisfactory and gripping.

Most unusual opera: George Enescu, Oedipus, Vienna State Opera (April). I did not know this opera at all, but was pleasantly surprised. It would have been the best performance I saw in 2005, if it were not for the Regietheater staging imported from Berlin. The director should please be deported back to Germany. Please.

Most fun at the opera: Ferenc Lehar, Der Graf von Luxemburg, Volksoper Wien (October). The director (not German) decided that the plot was silly, so he rewrote it keeping the music the same. This was neither Regietheater nor an “updated” plot, just different. I have no idea what opera I really saw, but I had fun.

Best concert: this was more of a year for operas than concerts, to be honest. If I have to pick one concert of non-standard repertory, I will single out a performance of one of my favorite oratorios, Franz Schmidt’s mystical Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln (based on the Revelations of St. John, Schmidt’s vision of the Apocalypse fittingly had its premiere shortly after the Nazis marched into Vienna), with the Tonkünstler Orchester Niederösterreich under Kristijan Järvi and a dramatic Robert Holl singing the Voice of the Lord from the Musikverein balcony, in Vienna (October). Thankfully, no German directors thought to stage this performance.