Monday, 28 July 2014

A Village Romeo and Juliet – Oper Frankfurt – 6 July 2014

Photos: Barbara Aumüller

Sali, Manz’s son – Jussi Myllys
Vreli, Marti’s daaughter – Amanda Majeski
Manz, rich farmer – Dietrich Volle
Marti, rich farmer – Magnús Baldvinsson
The Dark Fiddler – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Sali as a child – Ludwig Höfle
Vreli as a child – Chiara Bäuml
First farmer – Pavel Smirnov
Second farmer/Shooting gallery man/Hunchbacked bass fiddler – Matthias Holzmann
First woman – Birgit Treschau
Second woman – Julia Heße
Third woman/Cheap jewellery woman/Wild girl – Yvonne Hettegger
Gingerbread woman/Slim girl – Magdalena Tomczuk
Wheel of fortune woman – Natascha Djikanovic
Showman/Poor hornplayer – Hyun Ouk Cho
Carousel man – Garegin Hovsepian
Three bargemen – Matthias Holzmann, Gerhard Singer, Sung-Ho Kim

Chorus & Statisterie of Oper Frankfurt
Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra

Conductor – Paul Daniel
Director – Eva-Maria Höckmayr
Set design – Christian Schmidt
Costumes – Saskia Rettig
Lighting – Olaf Winter
Dramaturgy – Norbert Abels

The strongest of Frederick Delius’s six operas has not, to my knowledge, been seen on a professional British stage for half a century (a planned Royal Opera production three years ago was sadly ditched following the death of Charles Mackerras, though there was a concert presentation at the Southbank Centre in 2012). But A Village Romeo and Juliet is gaining a following in German-speaking countries, not least, it would appear, thanks to its source in a novella by the 19th-century Swiss writer Gottfried Keller. And it did indeed receive its world premiere, in Jelka Delius’s German translation, in Berlin in 1907. It was staged in Karlsruhe two years ago and is scheduled in Bielefeld for next January. Coming in between the two, this Frankfurt debut for the work could be seen as its final coming of age: playing to full houses and receiving the complete Regietheater treatment in such a major house it gave the sense of having at last achieved acceptance and esteem as a stage work.

Certainly no expense seemed to have been spared in its presentation. Christian Schmidt’s monumental set was an almost constantly mobile trio of three-dimensional structures that must have required some nifty computer-aided mechanics to choreograph in time with the music and action. Such scenic fluidity meant that the opera could be performed without a break and so maintain the musical and dramatic tension over its hour-and-three-quarter span. This setting was strangely interior – even, with its apartment-block staircase, urban – for a work in which nature plays such an important role, both scenically and in the music, and the farming context of the plot seemed deliberately alien. The only natural feature was a live caged rabbit in the first scene – no doubt symbolic, and later (dead and stiff) doubling as the Fiddler’s violin and inexplicably reappearing in cartoon-style human form towards the end. This baffling intrusion went against the generally understandable tenor of Eva-Maria Höckmayr’s interpretation, one where one didn’t even miss the imagery of the final scene where the two young lovers are supposed to float away on a sinking hay barge – here their fatal consumption of a cocktail of drugs made for just as poignant a close.

On the face of it, the story of the opera is a simple one: two children, offspring of two farmers who have long been in dispute over a parcel of land, meet again as teenagers, fall headlong in love and given their situation and the poverty that their fathers’ rivalry has brought upon their families see the only way out in death. The genius of Höckmayr’s concept of the opera was to people the stage almost constantly with doppelgängers of the two lovers at different times of their lives, from young children to the never-to-be-reached old age. The effect was an almost surreal obsession with the inseparability of Sali and Vreli and the pursuit of their impossible union, epitomised by the scene in which they both dream of their wedding and the brides and bridegrooms proliferate.

The dreamlike nature of the conception was taken a step further in the staging of the ‘Walk to the Paradise Garden’ interlude before the final scene. What on face value is supposed to be a rather forlorn amble to the pub to escape the abuse from the villagers at the fair was turned into a vision of Eden itself in which two more young Sali/Vreli lookalikes removed all their clothes, stood in composed embrace and then faced the audience in all their vulnerability like the pre-temptation Adam and Eve. As an idealised counterpart to the sexual awakening that was hinted at on another part of the stage by two more extras, it was profound, beautiful and heart-rending all at the same time, and Delius’s soaring lines in the purely orchestral arrangement of his ‘Walk’ will never sound the same to these ears again.

Like the ‘original’ Romeo and Juliet, Delius’s characters are assumed to be in their mid-teens, a difficult age to cast plausibly. But Finnish tenor Jussi Myllys and American soprano Amanda Majeski both looked feasibly youthful and sang their roles with convincing ardour and portrayed their characters’ enveloping mutual attraction most affectingly. Their younger selves were also sung with confidence by two members of the house’s Children’s Chorus, Ludwig Höfle and Chiara Bäuml. Höckmayr and her designers did little to distinguish between the two farmers, Manz and Marti, as if to emphasises their joint culpability in affairs, but Dietrich Volle and Magnús Baldvinsson were contrasted enough in voice to give them some sense of humanity and vulnerability.

Apart from the two farmers, the main subsidiary character is the Dark Fiddler, who appears three times through the opera to suggest ways out to the lovers that ultimately they refuse to take. Here, as played by Johannes Martin Kränzle – the Beckmesser and Alberich de nos jours – he was on stage almost throughout, and paradoxically dressed all in white, as a kind of orchestrator of the action – whether malign or benign was often deliberately unclear. In one sense it was a shame that a singer of such charismatic power and richness of vocal communication only had three ballad-like ‘arias’ to sing, but his stage presence, whether sidling in through windows or providing the model of a tree to complete the Eden image, was all-pervasive – and what’s more he even played his own violin solo, quite creditably, in his first scene.

Delius’s original English libretto sounds horribly effete and dated to 21st-century ears, so it was a relief that it was sung here in Tom Hammond’s revision, originally made for the Delius Centenary Festival staging by Sadler’s Wells in 1962. On CD, Delius’s score has often come across to me as rather overly rhapsodic, despite the strength of its main, opening motif and the obvious glories of the ‘Walk’. But seeing and hearing the whole thing in the theatre for the first time changed my view completely and its searing, heartfelt lyricism and Romantic sweep completely consumed the senses. Much of this was down to the conducting of experienced Delian Paul Daniel, who seemed to have convinced the members of the Frankfurt Opera orchestra that this glowing, febrile score is one of the masterpieces of early 20th-century repertoire.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Jonny spielt auf – German National Theatre, Weimar – 5 July 2014

Krister St Hill (Jonny) and Steffi Lehmann (Yvonne)

Photo: Stephan Walzl

Max, a composer – Alexander Günther
Anita, a singer – Larissa Krokhina
Jonny, a jazzband violinist – Krister St Hill
Daniello, a violin virtuoso – Bjørn Waag
Yvonne, a chambermaid – Steffi Lehmann
Manager – Daeyoung Kim
Hotel director – Artjom Korotkov
Station supervisor – Detlef Koball
First Policeman – Klaus Wegener
Second Policeman – Yong Jae Moon
Third Policeman – Oliver Luhn

DNT Opera Chorus
Weimar Staatskapelle

Conductor – Martin Hoff
Director – Frank Hilbrich
Set design – Volker Thiele
Costumes – Gabriele Rupprecht
Dramaturge – Kathrin Kondaurow

Larissa Krokhina (Anita) and Alexander Gunther (Max)

Photo: Stephan Walzl

It’s difficult to imagine the same happening today: when Ernst Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf (Jonny Strikes Up) premiered in Leipzig in 1927 it was such an instant hit with audiences (less so with the critics) that some 30 other theatres had taken it up and staged it within its first year. Krenek’s publisher, Universal Edition, produced a map showing where it had been put on in that one year and it covers virtually every major and minor opera house in Germany bar Munich, as well as places further afield from Antwerp to Budapest, Basel to Leningrad. Its fall from grace was almost as swift – its subject-matter made it the target of Nazi demonstrations from its early days and later Jonny literally became the poster-boy for the ‘Degenerate Music’ (Entartete Musik) exhibition held in Düsseldorf in 1938.

The reasons for both its fame and its rejection seem tame to us today. In short, it is in effect a cross between opera and operetta in which the tussle between European art music and American jazz being played out by composers across the continent in the 1920s is made manifest. Jonny, a black leader of a jazzband, steals an Amati violin from the classical virtuoso Daniello because he feels the old music is dead and his is the future and more worthy of the instrument, in doing so encouraging everyone to head for the New World as the music of America is set conquer the Old. The catchy jazz numbers and subversiveness and raciness of the action were lapped up by early audiences and were among the very reasons that the work fell foul of Nazi doctrine – Jonny spielt auf was almost designed to provoke its worst prejudices (although Krenek wasn’t Jewish, it didn’t stop Viennese protesters complaining of a ‘Jewish–Negro soiling of our opera house’).

As a key representative of 1920s Zeitoper (opera of our time, or more specifically opera with a contemporary milieu), it is also a signature cultural artefact of the Weimar Republic. The chance of seeing it in the very theatre (admittedly rebuilt post-war) where that republic was declared in 1919 was too good an opportunity to miss. Weimar is named on that Universal map, so this was presumably its first return to the theatre since the late 1920s.

Jonny sets its challenges for the director and designer, calling for a singing glacier, a Keystone Cops-style car chase and a character falling to his death under a moving train. Frank Hilbrich and Volker Thiele avoided all three: the glacier was presented as a giant picture in a gallery, and the hard-to-portray action sequences took place off stage. The idea of the gallery, overseen by a trio of decrepit curators (who also undertook the roles of arthritic scene-shifters), actually proved an apt analogy for the ‘museum culture’ that Jonny wants to sweep away, but the added scene at the very beginning, before the music had even started, in which the entire cast paraded past the glacier image was interminable overkill.

The glacier is a paradoxical symbol – the one place where composer Max feels secure while the world around him seems to be slipping from his grasp. Here by chance he meets Anita, who has sung in one of his operas, wins his heart and persuades him to follow her and her career to America. For all the slapstick and all that jazz, it is their relationship that leads the plot, even if ultimately it is Jonny whose guile wins the day. Also in the mix are the chambermaid Yvonne and the lascivious and conniving violinist Daniello who gets his comeuppance under the train. Hilbrich staged all this with cinematic fluidity, helped by Thiele’s mobile set that easily transformed from gallery to hotel to station. His characterisation was sharp, helped by a cast that played together as a true ensemble, from doddery silent museum staff to leading roles.

Most of these were cast from Weimar’s in-house team of singers. Alexander Günther, who has been with the company for 22 years and has recently moved from baritone to tenor roles (most singers tend to move the other way), found the lyricism in the role of the ever-troubled Max. He was strongly partnered by Russian soprano Larissa Krokhina as Anita, who coped well with the part’s demanding coloratura and had admirable presence on stage. Steffi Lehmann was winningly lithe of voice as Yvonne – the perfect soubrette – and Norwegian baritone Bjørn Waag managed to garner some sympathy as a warm-voiced Daniello.

But inevitably the show was stolen by Jonny in the person of guest baritone, the Swedish–Trinidadian Krister St Hill, veteran of the Decca recording of the work from over twenty years ago, but still in full command of the role in voice and character. It’s a part that demands wit, cunning, charm and charisma, and he possessed them all, coupled with a sleek tonal quality and winning way with the German/cod-American text.

Krenek’s score is an unusual cross between 1920s New Objectivity, even atonality, and the popular song and dance idioms that so entranced those early audiences. It’s a difficult mixture to hold together, but Weimar’s General Music Director Martin Hoff gave the score admirable shape and integrity and if the Weimar Staatskapelle wasn’t quite up to the level of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on the Decca recording it was nonetheless idiomatic and enthusiastic in its execution of the music.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Die Soldaten - Komische Oper, Berlin - 1 July 2014

Photos: Monika Rittershaus

Wesener, a fancy-goods dealer in Lille – Jens Larsen
Marie, his daughter– Susanne Elmark
Charlotte, his daughter – Karolina Gumos
Wesener’s Elderly Mother – Xenia Vyaznikova
Stolzius, draper in Armentières – Tom Erik Lie
Stolzius’s Mother – Christiane Oertel
Obrist, Count of Spannheim – Reinhard Mayr
Desportes, a nobleman – Martin Koch
Pirzel, a captain – Hans Schöpflin
Eisenhardt, a chaplain – Joachim Goltz
Haudy – Tomohiro Takada
Mary – Günter Papendell
1st Young Officer – Edwin Vega
2nd Young Officer – Alexander Kravets
3rd Young Officer – Máté Gál
Countess de la Roche – Noëmi Nadelmann
The Young Count, her son – Adrian Strooper
Andalusian/Madame Roux – Beate Vollack
Three Captains – Bogdan Taloş, Benjamin Mathis, Konrad Hofmann
Drunken Officer – Elias Reichert
Countess’s Servant – Wolfram Schneider-Lastin
Young Ensign – Benjamin Mathis
Soldiers Chorus – Jonas Olejniczak, Simon Ortmeyer, Guillaume Vairet, Christopher Lane, Robert Elibay-Hartog, Thomas Hartkopf, Christian Packbier, Simon Mehlich, Christoph Wiatre, Fabian Musick, Jonas Flemmerer, Emil Roijer, Phillippe Hillebrand, Nenad Ivkovic, Fabian Jud, Olaf Taube, Elias Reichert, Marcus Elsäßer

Conductor – Gabriel Feltz
Director – Calixto Bieito
Stage design – Rebecca Ringst
Costumes – Ingo Krügler
Dramaturgy – Beate Breidenbach, Pavel B. Jiracek
Lighting – Franck Evin
Video – Sarah Derendinger
Choreography – Beate Vollack

Given his reputation for controversy, Calixto Bieito could be said to have met his match with Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten. This giant of late-20th-century opera, composed in the early 1960s, was originally deemed too ambitious to stage, with its vast forces and simultaneous running of scenes. Yet it is now becoming almost a repertoire piece, with Bieito’s the third major production in as many years in central Europe, following stagings in Salzburg and Munich. This particular version is a co-production with Zürich Opera, where it had opened at the start of the season. Its Berlin run at the Komische Oper almost brought the drama into one’s lap. The pit was covered over to provide a performance space barely a metre from the front row and the huge orchestra took over the stage behind, ranged around Rebecca Ringst’s bright yellow scaffolding platforms. This lent a rare interaction between singers and instrumentalists, with sections of percussion on occasion being trundled forward on to the stage and characters entering beneath the orchestra or hovering in industrial-scale cradles above the musicians.

One of the masterstrokes of Zimmermann’s dramatic conception is the telling of a tragically human story in the context of a force – militarism – that seems to be defined by the composer’s dissonant, modernist style. But what both Bieito and the conductor Gabriel Feltz brought across in this staging was how much intimacy and delicacy there is to be found in both the story and music. There was no shortage of violence or nakedly displayed brutality, yet at the same time, characters emerged as human beings caught up in a tragedy, rather than mere cyphers. It helped that Bieito’s interpretation of the composer’s ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’ for his milieu brought the action closer to our time than, say, Harry Kupfer’s bewigged characters in his Stuttgart staging (as seen on an Arthaus DVD release), where caricature seemed more of a danger. Here, from costumes and wigs, we seemed to be in the 1960s, the time of the work’s composition, rather than the period of Jakob Lenz’s Napoleonic-era original. The soldiers, therefore, were ‘modern’ enough to convey a brutality that some in this Berlin audience could conceivably have experienced first hand.

Video was a key component of the conception, with live handheld cameras often giving a voyeuristic intimacy to some of the exchanges, especially for action that took place away from the covered pit. And to discomfit us even more, a looped film of maggots devouring a dead rat filled the theatre for the duration of the interval.

It all provided a context in which Bieito seemed to be exploring parent–child relationships as much as the bigger picture. There was a suggestion that Marie’s father Wesener is more interested in his business activities than caring for his two daughters, or indeed his own mother, who is left to wander round on her own with a hospital drip. The embarrassingly wet Stolzius is patently over-mothered in the early scenes until he finally breaks free to take his revenge on his rival in love, Desportes. And the Countess de la Roche, meanwhile, has a blatantly erotic fixation on her son, fondling and kissing him in their big scene together in Act III – she certainly seems portrayed more as madame than protector when later taking care of Marie’s welfare.

Like Buchner/Berg’s Marie in Wozzeck, Lenz/Zimmermann’s Marie in this work is portrayed not as a helpless victim of circumstances but as a strong woman, who just happens to come up against the unscrupulous, dehumanised military world. Her succession of lovers – apart from the ever-faithful Stolzius – undoubtedly take advantage, but she’s the one in control until her destitution changes the balance of power, with the pessimistic suggestion that society – and particularly the military side of it – has irrevocably failed.

Danish coloratura soprano Susanne Elmark fully inhabited the role of Marie, for all the indignity of having to spend large swathes of the opera on stage in nothing but her underwear. Hers was a performance as brave dramatically as it was finely tuned vocally – no singer ever sounds completely comfortable with Zimmermann’s leaping vocal writing but she and others in the cast managed to make it appear as natural as more conventional melodic lines. There were no weak links among the supporting cast, though Tom Erik Lie’s sympathetically portrayed Stolzius and Noëmi Nadelmann’s man-eating Countess deserve special mention, as do the agile tenor of Martin Koch as Desportes and the seductive tones of Günter Papendell as Major Mary.

This, though, was a true company achievement, from solo roles and chorus of soldiers to the playing of the Komische Oper orchestra – overwhelmingly brutal and filigree by turns, all under Feltz’s masterly control.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Masterpieces of Music

Thoughts on the creation of my new eBook series, launched this month.

As a writer of concert programme and CD booklet notes of many years’ standing, I’ve often felt hampered by the limitations of the written word when trying to describe music’s inner workings. It can be a challenge conveying how one chord sounds different from its neighbour, how one motif is condensed or stretched into another, or how a composer structures an entire movement. A certain language has built up to attempt to express these often inexpressible things, but what has been needed is a way to make it work for people of differing musical knowledge. Now the answer has arrived with modern technology and its ability to bring together several means of communication – the word, the visual image and sound – in the concept of the eBook. There’s no longer any need to be restricted to just words and pictures, or even to a linear approach to covering a subject. And with ‘bits’ rather than pages to play with, there’s the luxury of having the space to explore a subject in far more detail than offered by traditional media – in other words, it is easy to take the ‘everything-you-wanted-to-know’ approach and tackle the piece from a number of different angles. A further advantage of the medium is that in its inherent modular make-up it never gives the impression to the reader of being a weighty tome – an eBook can either be read through from ‘cover to cover’ or dipped into with ease, using internal links to take a more serendipitous approach.

It has therefore been a liberating experience working on my new eBook series, Masterpieces of Music. Pop-up side features mean I can legitimately go off on tangents – to explore side issues relating to the work, or expanding on areas in a detail that would otherwise slow down the main argument of the text. For instance, in the launch title on Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, I have been able to dwell on the composer’s love-hate relationship with the figure of Napoleon, or the links between the symphony’s heroism and the character of Prometheus, while not distracting the reader who simply wants to read the chronology of the work’s creation.

But more than just telling the story behind the writing of the work, I have been able to explore the music’s very essence in a descriptive analysis in terms – I hope – that will be appreciated as much by the inveterate concert-goer or music student as by those just starting out in their appreciation of great music from a non-musical background. There’s always a danger that the beginner might be discouraged from reading further if the text is peppered with copious music examples, but in these digital books, as well as the examples using a simplified notation where possible, each is paired with an audio file that plays the notes with the sound of a keyboard. So individual motifs are picked out, harmonic progressions displayed and whole sections of a movement – in the case of the Beethoven, the Allegro con brio’s miraculous development section – cut into pieces and put back together again in both visual and aural ways. Similarly, all musical terms in the text are linked to their definitions via pop-ups, with layman’s language used to enable greater appreciation of music’s many, and often convoluted, concepts.

With such a wealth of great music available, it hasn’t been easy choosing the pieces to focus on for this series, at least for the first few. But the ‘Eroica’ was an obvious starting point, given its epoch-making status and general familiarity. Then it was a case of taking key works to represent different musical periods and genres, with the result being an initial group of five works: the ‘Eroica’, Bach’s Mass in B minor, Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Debussy’s La mer.

My role as a music-writer and critic has always been to enthuse about great art and performance. I hope some of that advocacy comes across in the texts of these short books. And the writing has been a rewarding task in itself, delving deeply into the history of the period of the work to set the broad background and creating timelines that reveal what else was going on in the cultural world at the same time, as well as making a detailed study of how the composer put the given piece together as music. Being able to work on the text concurrently with creating music examples and audio clips has also made the process of putting together the ‘walk-through’ (a less forbidding term than ‘analysis’) more seamless than I might have expected. The icing on the cake has been an arrangement with Harmonia Mundi, one of the world’s leading independent record labels, to take excerpts from its acclaimed recordings as a supplement to the keyboard-only clips in the walk-throughs.

The first eBook, Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, is now available, with the Bach in production and the Brahms under way. Full details at

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Die Frau ohne Schatten - Staatstheater Kassel - 28 June 2014

Emperor – Ray M. Wade Jr
Empress – Vida Mikneviciute
Nurse – Ulrike Schneider
Spirit Messenger – Marc-Olivier Oetterli
Guardian of the Threshold of the Temple – Anna Nesyba
Voice of a Youth – Johannes An
Apparition of a Youth – Ingo Schiller
Falcon – Lin Lin Fan
Voice from Above – Maren Engelhardt
Barak, the dyer – Espen Fegran
Dyer’s Wife – Stephanie Friede
One-eyed Brother – Marian Pop
One-armed Brother – Krzysztof Borysiewicz
Hunchbacked Brother – Bassem Alkhouri
1st Maid – Anna Nesyba
2nd Maid – Maren Engelhardt
3rd Maid – Elisabeth Rogers
Children’s Voices – CANTAMUS
Voices of Nightwatchmen – Hansung Yoo, Tomasz Wija, Marc-Olivier Oetterli, Hee Saup Yoon
Children – CANTAMUS

Conductor – Patrik Ringborg
Director – Michael Schulz
Scenery – Dirk Becker
Costumes – Renée Listerdal
Dramaturge – Jürgen Otten
Lighting – Albert Geisel
Chorus Director – Marco Zeiser Celesti / Maria Radzikhovskiy

The coup de theatre in Michael Schulz's staging of Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten comes in the very final image. The two reconciled couples, Emperor and Empress, Barak and his wife of no name, are surrounded by all the children they are presumably about to have. The children have highly admonishing faces, which takes all the joy out of the adults' faces. A couple of officers stand above, waiting for their new generation of cannon fodder. As a reposte to the idea that Strauss and particularly Hofmannsthal saw their concocted fairytale as a call to the German people to go forth and multiply in the wake of the carnage of the First World War, this was a damningly pessimistic ending, especially ironic given the exultation of the accompanying music. For the first time, all that tosh about only motherhood making a woman complete had a purpose if one takes its message here as a warning: should we bring children into this world if their only fate is to repeat the tragedy of their parents' generation? Setting the whole opera at the time of its composition, during the 1914-18 war, thus gave added resonance; seeing it a hundred years to the day since the fateful assassination in Sarajevo more so.

The plot comes with its Kaiser already there, an emperor more interested in going hunting than concerned with those around him. This Kaiser, though, does not suffer petrification but instead at the climax of Act III seems to have shot himself when finally faced with the reality of the war he blithely had had others wage on his behalf: widows and orphans bury him behind the uniforms of their slaughtered husbands and fathers. Earlier, it had been this battle dress that the dyer Barak had been engaged in making; his three disfigured brothers are war invalids, and the family home becomes a makeshift hospital for the gas-blinded soldiers who in the first orchestral interlude had been shown confidently marching off to war. The wounded falcon is a flying ace and the youth is an all-pervasive dilettante falling for every woman he meets and (convincingly) miming the big cello and violin solos like a symbol of the old world destroyed by war.

Theatre Kassel's presentation of this fascinating rethinking was exemplary in both theatrical and musical terms. Despite a couple of rival productions being staged concurrently in Germany, this one was exceptionally well cast. Ulrike Schneider, the house's resident dramatic mezzo, made a formidable Nurse, with a voice that reminded me of the vehemence (in a good way) of Felicity Palmer. It would be hard to imagine the two rivals for the ownership of the shadow, the Empress and Dyer's Wife, more grippingly sung than from Vida Mikneviciute and Stephanie Friede and for once in Ray M. Wade Jr we were blessed with an Emperor who never showed a single sign of strain with Strauss's Heldentenor demands. The orchestral playing was accomplished under Patrick Ringborg's direction but never quite raised the roof in purely emotional terms.