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Estival Festivals: III. Baden-Baden

A rave review for Anna Netrebko: Manuel Brug, the generally tough critic of the German daily paper "Die Welt," was capivated by Tchaikovsky's "Iolanthe," which, presented on a double bill with Rachmaninoff's "Alekho" and conducted by Valery Gergiev, opened on Saturday, the highlight of the summer festival at the huge Festival Hall in Baden-Baden.

Building Germany's largest opera house in a sleepy 19th-century resort town, where Germans (in particular) still take the waters, seemed like a quixotic endeavor a decade ago, particularly since the theater was to be funded not by government (the European norm), but on the American, private-sponsoring model. Baden-Baden has, however, managed to live up to its promise of offering festival-caliber opera: that is, big name stars in works outside the time-worn canon.
(read more after the jump)

"Iolanthe" is hardly over-performed: meaning, perhaps, that the public is more willing to be open to the interpretation of Mariusz Trelinski, who directed both operas (the production came from the Mariinsky). It was to feature Netrebko (in her festival debut) and Rolando Villazón, the tenor whose career may have been nipped in the bud by vocal problems. (NB: I was incorrect in my Munich post in stating that Villazón was slated to sing "Lohengrin" -- it was, of course, "Werther," as a reader correctly pointed out.) Here, as in Munich and New York ("Lucia di Lammermoor" earlier this spring), Piotr Beczala was called in to replace him.

Brug, at least, was won over: he liked the production, the cast (including the baritone Alexei Markov and, in "Alekho," the bass John Relyea), and Netrebko, whose voice he found deeper and fuller than it was before the birth of her son, and for whom he thought the role was tailor-made. Indeed, he said that she is steadily transforming from a product into an individual. As if to confirm this, Deutsche Grammophon, one of Netrebko-as-product's chief marketers, canceled its plans for a recording when Villazón pulled out, meaning that those who don't get to attend one of the four performances in Baden-Baden will have to take a critic's word for it.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 20, 2009; 6:49 AM ET
Categories:  festivals , opera  
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