Arts Travel : Kent Nagano and the Munich Opera Festivalby Joseph So
/ October 13, 2008
the Munich Festival is pure opera heaven to us opera-starved Canadians.
Recently I spent a fabulous week at the Richard Strauss Festwochen that
closed the Munich Festival. Over six days, I saw Arabella, Ariadne
auf Naxos, Elektra, Salome, and Werther, with a Jonas Kaufmann
Liederabend thrown in for good measure. Other festivals such as
Salzburg, Bregenz or Glyndebourne might be equally starry or cutting-edge,
but none can match Munich’s programming consistency or their
staggering variety. This year’s festival was particularly festive
because the city was celebrating its 850th anniversary.
I wished I had arrived earlier to catch the ultra-Romantic Jurgen Rose
production of Der Rosenkavalier
and my beloved Soile Isokoski in Four Last Songs, or stayed long
enough to witness the closing Die Meistersinger. But the performances
I managed to see were all extremely high caliber, with Ariadne
and Salome tied for top honours. It was no coincidence that both
operas were conducted by Kent Nagano, arguably one of the half dozen
top conductors today. Some impress with galvanizing power, others
with clinical precision and attention to textual nuance, still others
are masters of the grand statement. Nagano has it all, as Montreal Symphony
audiences have already discovered. The final scene from Salome
positively spine-tingling; while “transcendent” was an apt description
of the refulgent sounds at the end of the opening night Ariadne.
His tenure at the MSO has contributed a rich program of concert operas
and vocal music.
Munich Festival was the second under Nagano’s direction, and attendance
at the 65 events reached 98.2% capacity, selling tickets to some 80,000
people. For the first time in many years, three new productions were
mounted during the Festival. Nagano himself was on the podium for 15
of those evenings. So the rumor that Munich might not be able to keep
Nagano beyond his current contract came as a surprise. The subject came
up at the press lunch I attended with Dr. Ulrike Hessler, who is in
charge of development and programming at the Bavarian State Opera. Dr.
Hessler was friendly and remarkably candid with the press, making it
known that the Company hopes to retain their star maestro. Initial discussions
to extend Nagano’s contract have already begun. Munich will also have
a new General Director, Nikolaus Bachler, who recently announced exciting
plans for the 2008-9 season, including new productions of Wozzeck
and Lohengrin, the latter with the “dream cast” of Jonas
Kaufmann and Anja Harteros. Stay tuned!