The GMD of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein is a gain for the Staatsoper. After “Hansel and Gretel”, the knowledgeable Kapellmeister leads confidently through the Wagnerian realms. He does so with that magistral security for which conductors like Sawallisch in Munich or Stein (in Vienna or Bayreuth) once guaranteed. This creates the necessary certainty that the philharmonic playing can unfold undisturbed.
Kober, GMD of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein with experience in Bayreuth, is a guarantor of security for the – here excellent, much acclaimed – ensemble of singers. He carries the voices with sovereignty, ensures perfect tonal balance in the State Opera Orchestra and unfolds Wagner’s sound dramaturgy in the manner of the great Kapellmeisters of yesteryear (from Rudolf Moralt to Horst Stein). This means that the singers can fully develop their vocal quality over the perfectly sounded orchestra sound. And they can feel safe, because they know that Kober never covers them up, and that they have a loving partner in the orchestra.
Conductor Axel Kober is the most important discovery for Vienna Wagnerians. Thanks to his obvious kapellmeister competence, he makes the orchestra dare to make risky dramaturgical manoeuvres and wins all along the line. He succeeds in laying out singer-friendly pianissimo sound carpets without losing tension and momentum. Again and again he animates the philharmonic soloists to almost improvisatory interjections, which are completely oriented towards the singing and the stage events, he makes trombones and tubas, in addition to powerful and blaring fanfares, also set perfectly balanced chord motifs in the mysterious pianissimo – for example when it is necessary to reveal incognito in the first act. A Wagner festival.
What was positively striking about Kober’s conducting was the perfect harmony of stage and pit events, which almost borders on a miracle for a work that is on the programme only once in the season. The fact that the Ring is part of his core business, and that the State Opera Orchestra and most of the singers have experience with both the work and the Viennese (non-)staging, does not diminish this achievement. The transition from „Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond” to „Du bist der Lenz, nach dem ich verlangte“, for example, caused goose bumps – here, commitment, dynamics and emotionality were combined into a larger whole that was breathtaking. The richness of nuances that the State Opera Orchestra developed not only at this point was also wonderful. Throughout the entire evening, music was played with full concentration. The overall result was correspondingly finely honed, although it was introduced by a rough prelude – I had memories of a trip through a Styrian forest where the winter storm “Paula” had bent the spruces like matches. The Valkyries ride was also a tough one. In comparison to the snorting warhorses, which Kober painted musically, other conductors let carousel horses dance. This may not serve the common imagination, but this Valkyrie will be remembered by many as a special experience.
In addition to Konieczny, Axel Kober in the pit has meanwhile become the darling of the audience as the “Ring” debutant in Vienna. The 48-year-old German conductor, who until then had only been seen at the Staatsoper on the podium of “Hansel and Gretel”, maintained the high tempo of the first two “Ring” parts and really made Stephen Gould sweat as Siegfried while forging Nothung. At the same time the interpretation remains full of intoxicating colourfulness.
The audience is unanimously enthusiastic about the Ring of the Nibelungen conductor Axel Kober and the orchestra of the Staatsoper, which plays magnificently in all instrument groups.
That she had to push as little as Siegfried did with his “Schmiedelied” was due to Axel Kober’s musical direction. This developed into the actual event of this “Ring” run. From act to act, the conductor and the orchestra seem to treat each other more freely and relaxed. Kober’s certainty gives the musicians the freedom to play solos with the highest tonal beauty, quasi improvisatory – and even allows the subtle wit of Wagner’s score to be heard. The fact that “Siegfried” is rightly called the “Scherzo of the Nibelungen Symphony” is also audible on such an evening. Even the brass armoured first finale gains a lightness of touch that borders on the miraculous, given the difficulties of this very score. After all, one knows that orchestral rehearsals are almost unthinkable in the Viennese repertoire. But if a maestro is able to confidently mobilize the notorious skills of the musicians.
Axel Kober’s finely nuanced conducting bordered on the eventful. He exploited the philharmonic splendour of the State Opera Orchestra to the full and ingeniously spanned the whole.
The greatest treasure lifted during this “Ring” run was Axel Kober as conductor of the tetralogy. The collaboration of the General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra created one of the most musically outstanding “Rings” at the opera house in recent years. Up to now, the 48-year-old has only appeared at the Ring on the podium of “Hansel and Gretel”. And now Kober presented a mighty, tin-heavy ring, which made the house tremble in places, did not put the strings too much in the foreground and yet did not shy away from the quiet tones in the right places. That Siegfried did not resurrect during his funeral march is surprising in this interpretation. Robert’s “Ring” has balls. And at the same time, his interpretation is a colourful tone painting that not only aims at the listener’s intestines, but also at the smallest bones of the ear. And it is also a mature work, whose creator usually pays attention to the singers.
An impressive “Ring of the Nibelung” thanks to the creative power on the conductor’s podium: Axel Kober, General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and no longer unknown in Bayreuth, has conquered Vienna with these performances. More precisely: the Vienna Orchestra and the audience. Kober obviously has the four works in his little finger – or rather: in all fingertips, in his arms and shoulders, not to mention his eyes. It is impressive how he gets a maximum effect out of the orchestra with minimal gestures, how he never forgets that the singing voices always get their due (which is: to be heard throughout even in the furor of the tragic events). It requires a first-class conductor. Axel Kober was available and not only led all forces safely through the fourteen and a half hours of music, but also intervened consistently in the overwhelmingly increased “funeral march” as in moments of extreme concentration. While theories are partly whispered in the final song, the last cough in the auditorium is silent; the air conditioning abstracts, which means: complete silence – with which in truth the utmost drama is achieved…
On all four evenings of the “Ring”, Kober showed his sovereignty at the podium of the State Opera Orchestra: with power, high tension and palpable drive, he – just like Horst Stein once did – implemented Wagner’s enormous musical theatre forms, images, political and redemption ideas of this doomsday scenario.
Which brings us to the State Opera on Sunday afternoon. Conductor Axel Kober and orchestra met for the “Ring of the Nibelung” (Kober’s first in Vienna) without a joint rehearsal, on Sunday there was the celebrated conclusion with the “Götterdämmerung”.
And here something was created in the moment. One was allowed to rejoice and be amazed at what people can do, how miraculously this mutual spontaneous exchange of complexity works: The musical result was quite extraordinary, let the singers remain audible and let the muscles play where one is gripped all the more sensitively. The repertoire, ideally it moves deeply.
When one comes into contact with non-Austrian opera lovers, one hears again and again (and again with pleasure) that the Vienna State Opera is a place of longing for Wagner and Strauss for many, and whether we natives even know how spoiled we are in this respect? How nice when a prejudice like this is confirmed, because what Axel Kober conjured up out of the Götterdämmerung was a special experience even for experienced Ring visitors. Musically, Götterdämmerung recapitulates mainly the leitmotifs of the previous three *Ring* days, but in morbid form. They are still clearly recognizable, but subtly distorted, if not corrupted. A dissonance here, double meaning there, lies, betrayal everywhere; inescapable, yet slowly spreading doom. What was previously fresh forest and flowers dries like the logs from the world ash tree around Valhalla, and smells even more intense, or at least flowery comparisons like this one came to mind when conducting Robert – to which the well-known perfume lover Wagner would probably have had no objection. Kober kept this leitmotif potpourri pleasantly transparent, and thus everything fitted together quite organically – this unstrained matter of course, from which grandiosity rose, demands respect. What was more impressive? The Rhine journey, Siegfried’s funeral march or the finale? It’s hard to decide, but as in the Walküre, it was particularly noticeable that both the chemistry between conductor and orchestra and the fine tuning with the stage action were perfectly in tune – and that without orchestra rehearsal.