October 26th, 2011 §
La Sylphide is one of the easiest ballets to perform and one of the most difficult ballets to get perfect. The dangers of La Sylphide are multiple:
- the Scottish setting can seem very campy
- adequate stagecraft to preserve a sense of wonder
- the music can come across as thin and grating
- sufficiently large, gifted and beautiful corps-de-ballet
- the male audience can fail to fall in love with La Sylphide
- the women in the public fail to identify with Effie
- the women in the public can wonder what Effie sees in James
Manuel Legris has gotten it all right with Wiener Staatsoper ballet.
Irina Tsymbal as La Sylphide
All photos courtesy & © Max Moser
The decors are very sober, even a little bit drab. You feel inside a Scottish manor somewhere in the Highlands. Yet all the space of the huge Vienna State Opera stage is all there for the variations. In the second act the woods were tremendous and airy.
The small touches of stagecraft were a delight. Sylphides flying across the stage at 15 metres above the stage, Sylphides perched in the branches of the trees, La Sylphide disappearing vertically up the chimney or disappearing instantly into the floor.
The Staatsoper orchestra was in fine form, particularly in the overture which was sufficiently lyrical and touching that one wishes a recording. Through the rest of the ballet the performance was usually very good but the limits of the score were sometimes felt and the music hinted of military marching band. Still I’m far from sure one can do better without reorchestration.
Staatsoper corps de ballet La Sylphide
Manuel Legris has continued to work wonders with the splendid corps-de-ballet that his predessor Harangoza so paintakingly built. There are no less than 23 additional sylphides on stage in the second act. The whole corps-de-ballet looked great. There are small moments of synchronicity to perfect, but it is the premiere after all. There are few over-rehearsed ballet companies left in the world and Vienna Staatsopera ballet is not one of them.
Irina Tsymbal tears of La Sylphide
Irina Tsymbal is a perfect Sylphide. Her pallid complexion and somewhat tragic demeanor finds its natural home. Tsymbal can portray imperious roles as well. She is a very versatile ballerina. But La Sylphide is the most natural fit of all for her.
After the performance, Manuel Legris elevated Irina Tsymbal to First Soloist. It is good to see Legris keep an open mind about dancers. Initially, he planned to release Tsymbal before his first season as what he saw in rehearsal hadn’t impressed him. Fortunately a good fairy told him that Tsymbal’s talents flame on stage and not at the bar. If Legris can remain open to talent like this, he has a long and bright career as a director ahead of him.
Effie is a more difficult role. Danced with sufficient flair, James enchantment with La Sylphide would make no sense. Nina Polakova is almost as lyric a ballerina as Irina Tsymbal, with less of Tysmbal’s undercurrents of dangerous passion. As Effie she very deliberately curbs her charms to become a real girl, in love with her man but more cheerful than deep, trusting than passionate.
Roman Lazik Irina Tsymbal La Sylphide
As James, Roman Lazik is in his element. James is the ordinary guy caught in a remote fantasy. Lazik plays James as a good old boy more than a dreamer. Still, in the second act, he struggles as one feels the the emotion is not in his bones. While Lazik is a very handsome man and a very correct classical dancer and an attentive partner, he lacks a certain passion.
With a truly charismatic and masculine dancer in the role of James – Sergei Filin from the Bolshoi comes to mind – the men identify strongly with James and the women understand and feel both for Effie and La Sylphide. Lazik didn’t fail to move us, but didn’t move us as much as I’d like. This single weakness explains to me why the audience reception was enthusiastic and not ecstastic. I hope we will see Vladimir Shishov in the role of James.
Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Madge
We did see some great performances in secondary roles: Andrei Kaydonovsky was truly wicked as Madge. The pantomine was writ large but he pushed through it with sufficient abandon that we believed in her evil. His movement remained strong but feminine.
Kamil Pavelka was a resolute and sufficiently antagonistic Gurn. One felt his contempt for his friend who was half heartedly stealing the woman he loved. Pavelka is the kind of dancer who is perfect in the secondary role, although I’m not sure how well he’d carry a prince.
The Scottish kilt complemented Mihail Sosnovichi’s shape and gave him more traditional proportions, which along with a good leap and his usual energy helped both Sosnovichi and his partner Maria Alati to an invigorating pas de deux as the young newlyweds.
Mihail Sosnovichi Maria Alatii
Solo Sylphides Alena Klochova Marie Claire d Lyse Andrea Nemethova
The solo Sylphides – Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Alena Klochova, Andrea Némethová – were very good but perhaps a little bit too heroic. Super Sylphides, I would call them. But why must Sylphides always be frail.
Manuel Legris brought in excellent pedagogues: himself and Elisabeth Platel. Gradually he is pulling Vienna up to the level of Opéra de Paris. The danger is too much success and perhaps Paris will be calling him back too soon for Vienna’s good.
On the whole La Sylphide earns a 9 out of 10. If I hadn’t seen Sergei Filin dance James, perhaps I’d give La Sylphide 2011 at Vienna Staatsoper a perfect 10.
Special thanks to Max Moser for his ever excellent dance and theater photos. You can book Max’s services at PhotobyMM.com. His full gallery of La Sylphide.
September 22nd, 2010 §
September 19th, 2010 §
Another good concert in the fabulous Melt series from Pazit . The Melt series in the Austellungsraum at 23 Gumpfendorferstrasse is the most vibrant concert series in Vienna now for electronic and experimental music. Pazit focuses usually on strong singer/songwriters and doesn't really limit the series too much by genre. In the current series of concerts, there's been real experimental, along with Falco revival Tanz Baby and even almost reggae.
Tanz Baby is a little bit kitsch with David Kleinl going somewhat over the top in his ersatz Falco persona. But like the original Falco, Tanz Baby is playful and fun. Everyone there had a great time.
Here are some photos.
tanz baby david kleinl bubbles
tanz baby david kleinl
Tanz Baby at Melt Continues »
September 12th, 2010 §
I've been swimming a lot in the Neue Donau in September. It's the most fabulous outdoor swimming pool you can imagine. As the weather gets colder, the water actually gets cleaner. There's nothing like swimming out in the open air as far as the eye can see.
neue donau worlds largest swimming pool
vienna new city from donauinsel
I purchased a half wetsuit on sale on a lark. It's been great. I've worn it half a dozen times already. You can still swim in the Neue Donau in September but for sport swimming this year (more than 15 minutes) you need a wet suit most days.
April 6th, 2010 §
Just digging into Ioan Holender's Closeup: 118 Premieren Wiener Staatsoper, the men's gift (Herrenspend) from the 2010 Opernball, this year. I wanted to have a look at the premiers of Gyoala Harangozo as Ballet Director.
Ioan Holender Opernball with Desirée Treichl-Stürgkh
To my astonishment, there was not a single image of ballet in the book. Ballet premiers are relegated to a two page list in the back.
I had heard of Holender's contempt for ballet but to just cut ballet out entirely from his commemorative goodbye album is a step too far.
While opera can be a magnificent art, most often it is tedious, filled with bombastic emotions of oversized egos.
Ballet on the other hand is the springtime, it is mortality in flight, it is delicate flutters of the soul made flesh.
The weak point in ballet is the music, which too often was primitively written for dance. Later that changed with Profkofiev and Stravinsky's ballet scores like Romeo and Juliet, Firebird and Rites of Spring.
Holender's Close Up was not even written by the author. He assented to five interviews about his time at Staatsoper where he answered the interviewer's questions about his work. The lazy man's way to writing a book.
In this case it works. Holender manages to come across as his irascible, irritable and bombastic self. The interviewer has edited the answers down to the essential so if you want to learn more about Holdender's methods, it's all there. He covers talent scouting, relationships with conductors when developing new talent.
I remember telling Muti about Angelika Kirschlager the first time. Muti didn't know her and therefore didn't want here. They all want the singers they already know. So you also have to fight with conductors and stage directors to convince them. And that is not an easy thing to do, believe me. (p. 455)
Axel Zeninger's photos as whole are excellent. As a stage photographer it's interesting to observe the changes in technology. In 1999, the early digital pictures have noisy shadows and are a little bit blurry due to long exposure times for instance in Don Giovanni, pp. 202-203). In 2009, the pictures are all sharp, as Nikon's high ISO actually works and one can shoot at 1/400 second and not at 1/30 second. But you can see what a blessing high ISO digital photography is by wandering through the photos from 1993 and 1994, such as Umberto Giordano's Fedora on pp. 84-85 or Richard Wagner's Ring on pp. 48-49.
In addition to the photographs and Holdender's insights, the program for each opera premier is included and reproduced at life size. Much nicer than a stack of programs in the corner of a shelf (as I have).
Closeup: 118 Premieren Wiener Staatsoper is recommended for Staatsoper, Holender and opera fans. It's an excellent idea to have a bound and visual summary of the Holender years, especially as it's well printed by Edition Lammerhuber. Alas there's nothing to recommend it to amateurs of ballet. Given Mr. Holender's contempt for ballet, I can't say I'm sad to see him go.
As I know more and more people from the opera again (in Moscow I spent a lot of time with opera singers and a fair amount of time at the Russian operas, but not the Italians) and I live in Vienna, I might very well read it myself to see what it is I'm missing out on.
March 25th, 2010 §
This past Sunday was my first trip to Bürgtheater as a full-fledged German speaker. Dear Astrid had lured me there in a previous life as a non-German speaker. She was adamant that I must see their astonishing work.
Somehow with Astrid we ended up somewhere in the galleries. It was more a feeling of alienation and awe. Something Shakespearian with much murder. Theatre in a language one doesn't speak is rarely a winning hand so I was loathe to make any judgement. We also attended a number of charming small pieces in the Casino at Schwarzenbergplatz, far more successful.
But this time for Trilogie des Wiedersehens Radoslava and I were in the second row of the main stage.
Comfortable and close enough to make a clear judgement.
Trilogie des Wiedersehens is set in real time at an art exhibit organized by Moritz. It seems that the whole town is there, from the doctor, to the printer, to the local writer. All the woman are there too in minidresses and pantsuits.
Trilogie des Wiedersehens, 2009
The whole town is there.
Photo by Reinhard Werner, Burgtheater.
Wonderfully enough there is a cast of sixteen in the Trilogie des Wiedersehens. Almost invariably, a play with a large cast will win my heart or at least my respect. A large cast gives the director so much richer a canvas to work with.
The setting is the 1970's so many of the actors are wearing outrageous wigs, which sadly look like wigs. I don't remember seeing my parents or their friends parading around in wigs in the 70's so we are already started on a bad hair day.
I also don't remember people screaming all the time in the 70's or necessarily understand why they would be having sex in washrooms with people they don't like. The second part is more credible.
The whole piece is made up of little conversational vignettes. The stage turns back and forth between the main exhibition hall with the food and drink and a little frequented back corridor nominally watched by a guard.
In each little vignette, more information comes to the surface about the past relationships and internal angst of each character. At first we devoured these cryptic exchanges seeking to make sense of the whole. As the characters screamed more and more we lost interest.
Trilogie des Wiedersehens, 2009
The whole piece is made up of little conversational vignettes.
Photo by Reinhard Werner, Burgtheater.
The mortally slow pace between vignettes didn't help. I don't know if the director was trying to show us that the seventies were indeed a slower time, but certainly to the people living in the seventies they didn't perceive time as slow but it certainly appeared that way to us with twenty to thirty seconds between one vignette ending and another one starting.
Now both of us are busy people active in the economic sphere of life. Perhaps certain Austrians, students or bureaucrats would find the pace relaxingly realistic. But the slow pace distracted both of us from being able to enter into the piece.
It didn't help that the characters were all dull and rather pathetic. None of them could be described as aspirational. And it seemed each actor was hellbent on mocking his or her own subject. A single exception: Juergen Maurer as the doctor was serious and persuasive. His role was near inconsequential but you felt that if Maurer had more to say, the play might actually go somewhere.
Portently he tells his shrill wife "Your low self esteem doesn't allow anyone to say anything kind to you."
Instead we listened mainly to the incessant rants and shrieking of Susanne (Regina Fritsch) and Elfriede (Sabine Haupt). In the end, the characters were dull and hysterical, invoking little sympathy, whether via screaming or drunkeness or their inability to eat a sandwich without spilling cream all over themselves.
Trilogie des Wiedersehens, 2009
Instead we listened mainly to the incessant rants and shrieking.
Photo by Reinhard Werner, Burgtheater.
In short drunken idiots leading hideous lives.
The first act ends with all of the actors naked on stage standing in a posed group (carefully arranged to reduce pruriency to a minimum). The stage rotatates out again bringing them all to center and the lights drop.
The significance? That we are metaphorically naked before our friends and family. I don't think I've seen anything at Bürgtheater which didn't include nudity on stage. I love nudity on stage - it's a great way to force a reaction. But here, nothing.
Strangely, the Austrian reviews of Trilogie des Wiedersehens are quite good. Perhaps we missed the humour. But having spent over one and a half hours with the crowd on stage, neither Radoslava nor I had any wish to spend any more time with them.
We left at the half, relieved to be spared more of the shrieking and base accusations.
In terms of the stagecraft, the set and the lighting were of a high level. The costumes were acceptable but kitschy and exaggerated, a grotesque. The acting was the same.
The one particularly clever piece of stagecraft is during the scenes in the main exhibition hall with the full cast present, the director contrives to have all of the conversational groups nod at one another as if the other were speaking. The actors each took a particular tick (a nod or a roll of the eyes) to the limit. Very droll and reminded me exactly of the sometimes surreal effect of being at a party: everyone feigning to listen to everyone else.
The Viennese worship their Bürgtheater (the second or third best stage in the German speaking lands according to the Viennese). Based on what we saw Sunday, they are nowhere near the Royal Shakespeare Company. Frankly I'd expect more engagement and conviction from a RADA graduation class. In grotesque, the top Moscow theatres would leave these lost souls wandering in limbo. They outplayed most of what you'd see in Toronto, which would be similarly emotionally vacant but even less persuasive.
This is not my last trip to Bürgtheater this year. I'll give them another couple of chances to change my mind but Trilogie des Wiedersehens was not a good start. Surprising as with a huge ensemble cast and complicated relationships, it caters exactly to my taste.
Performance seen 15 September 2009.
Photos from Bürgtheater official publicity photos.
February 11th, 2010 §
Warning: schizophrenic weblog post on the way.
Kaffeesiederball 2010 Nokia N97 Mini high ISO 01
The Kaffeesiederball together with the Opernball are Vienna’s two best balls. It’s a very close call which is better. I’d say the Kaffeesiederball with its 15 live orchestras is more fun, while the Opernball is more glamourous. But the Opernball is fun too, and Kaffeesiederball has glam aplenty. The contrast between both and banal balls like the Artztball (Physicians’ Ball) are striking.
Kaffeesiederball 2010 Nokia N97 Mini high ISO 02
Usually I have some great shots of the Kaffeesiederball but due to an arm strain back at the Austrian Fashion Week which turned into RSI, I’m off the main camera with full lens setup except for special occasions. Quite nice as it means that I can enjoy evenings without trying to capture fleeing time through a lens. Just for fun for a few minutes in the middle of the evening I pulled out the Nokia N97 mini and tried some snaps with it. Definitely not a low-light camera, but I can see that if one caps ISO at 400, the pictures are not at all bad.
Kaffeesiederball 2010 | Nokia N97 Mini High ISO Photos Continues »
December 9th, 2009 §
Over the years, I’ve been blessed with not often being ill. My endurance levels have been high.
Lately, a dear friend of mine has been trying to persuade me that too much tea is unhealthy, especially overly steeped tea. During nearly a decade in Moscow, I became accustomed to good Indian tea Russian style: that is to say, you create a tea concentrate which you drink all day long. Each cup you dilute to taste.
In short, over my life, I’ve drunk a lot of tea, much of it strong and filled with tannins. I’ve also always liked red wine especially cabernets (full of tannins) and natural apple juice (filled with tannin). I think it was my way of my body protecting itself.
My friend has gone so far as to say that tea drunk does not count as liquid, as it is a diuretic and actually dehydrates. To my relief, the British Nutritional Foundation insists tea is not:
"In terms of fluid intake, we recommend 1.5-2 litres per day and that can include tea. Tea is not dehydrating. It is a healthy drink."
Indeed, tea might have played a principal role in keeping me healthy and wealthy. Well at least healthy.
One shouldn’t cite Wikipedia too often in regards to health, but here we go this once on the subject of tannins:
Tannins may be employed medicinally in antidiarrheal, hemostatic, and antihemorrhoidal compounds
The anti-inflammatory effect of tannins help control all indications of gastritis, esophagitis, enteritis, and irritating bowel disorders. Diarrhea is also treated with an effective astringent medicine that does not stop the flow of the disturbing substance in the stomach; rather, it controls the irritation in the small intestine.
Tannins not only heal burns and stop bleeding, but they also stop infection while they continue to heal the wound internally. The ability of tannins to form a protective layer over the exposed tissue keeps the wound from being infected even more….
Tannins can also be effective in protecting the kidneys. Tannins have been used for immediate relief of sore throats, diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhaging, fatigue, skin ulcers and as a cicatrizant on gangrenous wounds. Tannins can cause regression of tumors that are already present in tissue, but if used exessively over time, they can cause tumors in healthy tissue.
They have also been reported to have anti-viral effects. When incubated with red grape juice and red wines with a high content of condensed tannins, the poliovirus, herpes simplex virus, and various enteric viruses are inactivated.
Tannins can also be used to pull out poisons from poison oak or from bee stings, causing instant relief. The tannins help draw out all irritants from the skin because tannin is an astringent that tightens pores and pulls out liquids.
Tea gets even more credit, with lowering stress levels, reducing cognitive impairment, inflammatory bowel disease, bactrial and fungal infections, anongenital warts, stroke, depression and even bad breath. I want some of that.
Apparently green and white tea have a lot more of the good effects of tea with fewer of the side effects. So I will try to stick to a cup or two of black per day but as many cups of white and green as I please.
What is true is that as tasty as coffee is, it’s more or less an amphetamine, with very few long term beneficial side effects. I will start to avoid coffee again (I’ve only given in to coffee in the last few years as the coffee is so good here in Vienna, but it will be considered an unnecessary and occasional luxury again, while tea will take the place of beverage of honour.)
So I’m going to enjoy not having a heart attack, reduced stress levels and lots of good cups of tea and great glasses of wine. It’s wonderful when it turns out the things you enjoy are things which keep you well.