Thursday, October 8, 2015
Which operatic character could be best described as a spider? Assume this question were asked at the next Met Opera Quiz: what would be your answer? Hint: a spider spins a web (of lies, of deception, whatever) and then patiently waits for her victim to fall in it, after which she mercilessly kills him and devours him. Any number of evil characters whose perverse machinations we observe during the course of a piece, and which terminates with the demise of the hero/heroine could be described that way. Iago in Otello is perhaps the most appropriate example. When it comes to Donizetti’s “Tudor cycle,” one could possibly think of Enrico in Anna Bolena, or even, with a big stretch, of Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda. But there is no clear reason why Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux, who ends up victim of her own rage and jealousy, should be identified with a spider. Yet that’s exactly what happens in Alessandro Talevi’s production of Donizetti’s opera currently being performed at the Teatro Real in Madrid in a co-production with the Welsh National Opera. A dark, ugly, almost damp, Court of England creates an appropriate setting for this opera where tragedy seems to be announced by the first bars, and where sad, almost desperate characters swiftly move towards their destiny, nobody getting what they want at the end. Which leaves us with the spider. In Act I, the spider lives in a tank, and is fed mice by Elisabetta—during her cabaletta no less! In Act II the real spider is nowhere to be found, but it’s Elisabetta’s throne during the fierce finale turns into a mechanical creature with eight legs chasing the Earl of Essex around the stage, later to collapse in Act III together with the Queen. Whatever the concept, count me among those who did not get it. Perhaps this was because the concept did not extend so far as the direction of the characters, who sang most of the time in a “stand and deliver” fashion, without any interaction with each other. It was almost as if the director had decided that Devereux has a collection of “stock” operatic characters (the hapless hero, the sad lover, the jealous husband) not worth spending any effort on, and instead has to focus solely on Elisabetta and her inner psychological conflict. She is the only one costumed with bright colors (including orange hair in a Marge Simpson upsweep) and the only one who seems to have received detailed blocking and acting direction. And, alas, the only one with the peculiar obsession with spiders. But let me be honest, I did not go all the way to Madrid to catch the production; rather I went to hear and see Mariella Devia in her first staged assumption of the role of the Queen. As in last year’s concert at Carnegie Hall, Devia displayed all her familiar virtues: flawless legato, elegant phrasing, immaculate coloratura, tasteful variations, ringing top notes. If anything she was in even better voice than last year. Perhaps because she was supported by a more sensitive conductor—the wonderful Bruno Campanella—her singing was beautiful throughout the night, not just in her two big arias but also in the duets and ensembles. The voice shows signs of age-related wear, but it’s still a formidable instrument in the hands of a consummate musician. The final scene was spellbinding, with “Vivi ingrato” floated in perfect pianissimos, lovely filature and an intimate sadness that really made you believe you were witnessing an interior monologue by the Queen. That was followed by a chilling account of “Quel sangue versato”, which this time Devia decided not to conclude with the high D natural that shook the rafters of Carnegie Hall last year. It is a testament to her magisterial singing in the entire scene, that nobody (including myself) seem to have missed it. The other draw to the performance was Gregory Kunde in the role of Roberto. Once a bel canto specialist, he has been recently singing heavier fare (Enée, both Otellos, Turiddu, Canio, etc). The voice is big, loud, with a secure booming top, and strong lower register. Age has left a big hole in between the two registers, which Kunde covers up as best as he can, and sometimes uses as a dramatic tool. Among all the singers, his acting was the least convincing, resorting to stock gestures and facial expressions. Silvia Tro Santafe sang the pants off the role of Sara. I only knew of her as contralto specializing in Baroque repertory, and I wondered how she would cope with Sara’s relatively high tessitura. She sang with a hearty full tone, and with a wide uniform range all the way to a secure top. She was the pleasant surprise of the evening. Young Italian baritone, Marco Caria did well as Nottingham, finding the right tones and accents to the different emotions of this character (from sad supportive friend, to jealous raging husband). A journey to Florence after seeing Devia in Madrid sent me down a beautiful memory lane: last time I was there was in 2000 when I saw her as Violetta at the old Teatro Comunale, now in disuse, since the company moved to the beautiful newly constructed Parco della Musica. The Devia connection continued with that night’s performance since I would see again the old (almost 20 years!) Graham Vick production of Lucia that she premiered here in Florence in 1996, and that I saw three years later with her in Geneva. I was happy to be able to revisit this staging: for me it stands as the best presentation of Lucia that I have ever seen. With a very simple, almost minimalist staging, Vick recreates a mysterious Scottish atmosphere: a moor dotted with delicate purple flowers, a couple of dead trees battered by the wind, and a huge full moon hovering overhead. Before this background, simple moving panels create the various rooms where indoor action takes part, but always with a crack or a window that allows us to see and connect to the moor and the moon. I remember well the subtle directorial touches that allowed us to witness the slow disintegration of Lucia’s psyche from the playful young girl splashing Alisa at the fountain to the demented, almost possessed murderer threatening the guests with Arturo’s sword. Many of those touches have now been lost in the revival directed by Marina Bianchi: Lucia does not grab Alisa in terror during “Regnava nel silenzio” anymore, and Lucia and Edgardo don’t toss about their Scottish tartans playfully. Yet this remains a compelling staging, not showing its age, and indeed I would almost suggest that Peter Gelb should bring it in to replace the current inane Met production. (It may be, though, that Vick remains persona non grata at the Met after his train wreck of Trovatore a decade or so ago. Australian soprano Jessica Pratt was a Lucia of formidable talent. She sang with assurance and almost self-indulgent bravura. Effortless high notes were tossed at every turn and held for a very long time. But that was not all Pratt had to offer: she sings with a pure, crystalline tone, a uniform production that moves smoothly across the registers, and perfect coloratura. At times one could have wished for a stronger lower register (where at times Pratt was overpowered by the orchestra or other singers) or a slightly more committed acting, but that’s really quibbling with a wonderful singer. At the end of “Ardon gli incensi” the audience went wild and refused to stop clapping until Pratt broke out of character, smiled, and with a wink to the conductor launched herself in a repeat of the final cadenza (which she sang with the same notes, but with completely different accents and approach) including the E-flat at the end. No less spectacular was the Edgardo of Jean-Francois Borras, known to New Yorkers for being the cover who stepped in for Jonas Kaufmann at a Met performance of Werther, but whom I had not heard before. His Edgardo was passionate, elegant and noble, all elements reflected in his singing. The voice, while not large, is projected effortlessly from a strong lower register to a full, almost “enveloping” rather than ringing top. Julian Kim slightly oversang his Enrico, but Riccardo Zanellato produced sufficient gravitas for the role of Raimondo. Emanuele D’Aguanno did well as Arturo, singing with a voice that reminded me of a young Juan Diego Flórez.
— Feldman, Rothko Chapel, works of Cage and Satie; Kim Kashkashian, Sarah Rothenberg, Steven Schick, Houston Chamber Choir (ECM, out Oct. 23) — Verdi, Aida; Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ludovic Tézier, Erwin Schrott, Antonio Pappano conducting the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Chorus (Warner) — Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch, out Oct. 23) — Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique, Lélio; Riccardo Muti conducting the Chicago Symphony, with Mario Zeffiri, Kyle Ketelsen, and Gérard Depardieu (CSO Resound) — Ornstein, Piano Quintet, String Quartet No. 2; Marc-André Hamelin, Pacifica Quartet (Hyperion) — Berg, Lyric Suite, Wellesz, Sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Zeisl, Komm, süsser Tod; Renée Fleming, Emerson Quartet (DG) — Julia Wolfe, Anthracite Fields; Bang on a Can All-Stars, Choir of Trinity Wall Street (Cantaloupe) — Cage, String Quartet in Four Parts, Thirty Pieces for String Quartet, Four; Quatuor Bozzini (qb)
The opening night of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s new production revival of Aïda, featuring Jonas Kaufmann in his staged role debut as Radamès, was captured informally on audio, and can be heard in full after the jump. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vw_h2hsyFIU
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the German reunification, the European Culture Awards 2015 will be presented in the Frauenkirche on October 2, starting 8pmAmong the award winners are Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, Daniel Hope, Manfred Krug, Katrin Sass and Felipe González. Angela Gheorghiu will perform Ebben, ne andro lontana from La Wally, according to the programThe Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic will be conducted by Kristjan Järvi The Gala will be broadcast live on MDR starting 8:15pm. Follow the link to listen to it online. Enjoy! I will!
Soprano Leah Crocetto as Luisa Miller and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” (photo: Cory Weaver) Rare Verdi, well done: SF Opera stages ‘Louisa Miller’ The singing was good all around, but the set was largely disappointing By James Sohre Contributing writer Luisa Miller lurks in the shadows of Verdi’s major accomplishments. Periodically the piece shows up in a successful reading such as this one at San Francisco Opera and makes us wonder why this engaging music doesn’t gain wider acceptance. After all, it has all the impetuous invention of its predecessors Nabucco, Ernani and Macbeth, and foretells all the sublime lyric outpouring of Il Trovatore, La Traviata and Rigoletto that are soon to come. Plus it offers some wonderful showcase opportunities for six accomplished soloists, which was paramount to San Francisco Opera’s success. In the title role, Leah Crocetto reveled in all the vocal attributes that have made her such a local favorite. She has a spinto tinge in her freely produced soprano that is alluring and velvety. In addition to the ability to effortlessly spin a hushed line above the staff and to effect a weighty world-weariness that illuminates her plight, Ms. Crocetto has enough heft to fill the house with pointed declamations during her tormented outbursts. As a stage performer, she is of the rather restrained Caballe school. While her voice is absolutely effective communicating varied emotions and moods, her physical presence is more earthbound. She did every bit of staging conscientiously and with good intent, but at no time in the opera was she ever as engaging or spontaneous as when she displayed the infectious joy at her curtain call, basking in the boisterous approval. With her singing already so highly accomplished, I only urge her to imbue that palpable joy and commitment into her physical embodiment of the roles she undertakes. Vitaliy Bilyy as Miller (photo: Cory Weaver) Vitaliy Bilyy, a singer whom I’ve never heard before, possesses substantial gifts that served the role of Miller well. He has all the essentials for the part: a ringing, virile baritone with good upper extension, a fine ability to spin out legato lines, and a keen understanding of the Verdi style. Bilyy cuts a fine paternal figure, and his duets with daughter Luisa were quite affecting and beautifully voiced. As the villainous Wurm, Andrea Silvestrelli was a sinuous, malevolent presence — deploying his biting, slightly acerbic bass with a secure musicality and fluid depravity. Daniel Sumegi was high powered and imposing as Count Walther. He could ride the orchestra with ease, and scored some potent triumphs as he manipulated the scenario to his ends. It must be said that Sumegi sometimes pushed his sizable baritone to the limit, resulting in some unsteadiness in mid-range passages. The writing for the mezzo role of Federica is decidedly less interesting than anything else in the piece, but Ekaterina Semenchuk’s rich mezzo has strong presence and an opulent tone. If she was somewhat thwarted in igniting a more potent rivalry with Luisa for Rodolfo’s attentions, part of the blame belongs to Verdi. Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo (photo: Cory Weaver) As accomplished and poised as were the performers, star tenor Michael Fabiano simply sang everyone off the stage. Mr. Fabiano recalls all the strengths of the impetuous, impassioned, informed singing of the young Neil Schicoff — and with none of the eccentricities. Fabiano has a formidable thrust to his delivery, with an ability to bounce a phrase off the back wall. Fabiano is also able to meld the tone into a whispered aside that draws an audience forward in their seats, looking to catch every subtlety of his delivery. His take-no-prisoners rendition of Quando le sere al placido was so heartbreaking, so raw, so gorgeous it stopped the show cold. Some even stood up to cheer it. For almost two minutes, nothing happened but cheering. And the reception was deserved. Fabiano may not have the widespread name recognition (yet) of a Jonas Kaufmann or a Piotr Neczala or a Juan Diego Flores, but he delivers the same high quality goods, and then some. Committed, gifted, intelligent, focused, musical, and oh yeah, handsome, Fabiano is the real deal. Luisa Miller is assuredly not a meat and potatoes opera, and given the irregularity of performances I suppose it’s to be expected that a company might revive a past production. Michael Yeargan’s minimalist set design was perhaps innovative at its bygone inception, but now it seems to resonate to the artistic sensibilities of another era. A semicircular paneled backdrop featured impressionistic-fuzzy trees painted on a white surface. An upper stage right panel flew up regularly to become a doorway/entrance, or to reveal a flashback or an isolated big moment. Occasionally, an entire four-foot section would rise up top to reveal a stage-wide band of stars, or such. A large I-beam on which a large painting hung hovered over the stage that could be spun or moved to suggest a locale or emotional state. The pattern of moving the painting slightly upstage, and revolving it during scene breaks, was as repetitive as opening and closing the door panel up right. And just as ineffective. Since the painting never ever traveled the two-thirds of the beam that came downstage, it was curious that the beam was that large at all — or even necessary. Toss in a few rudimentary furniture pieces like a throne, table, chairs and a recurring bed, and that was pretty much it. Oh, and an imposing equestrian monument on which Federica rides during her entrance. With not much going on with the scenery (or Gary Marder’s functional lighting) to establish time, place, or point of view, Dunya Ramicova’s apt costumes admirably picked up the slack. The commoners were suitably clad in folk-like peasant attire, the soldiers and guards in vibrant hunter green, and the courtiers dressed up in radiant, rich red velvet. If I’ve interpreted the credits correctly, Francesca Zambello’s original staging appears to have been re-imagined (or simply re-created) by Laurie Feldman. The character relationships were abundantly clear, although selected moments did not always set off the sparks consistent with the mood suggested by the music. The father-daughter relationship between Miller and Luisa could sometimes seem “by-the-numbers,” and Federica’s desperation did not make it firmly enough across the footlights. Conversely, the blocking was often extremely well devised — such as in the longish double death scene, where plausibility was maintained and good variety was mined. The excellent chorus (under Ian Robertson’s direction) was moved about with considerable skill and a keen eye to creating diverse stage pictures. I very much liked the final scene that began with the assembled chorus behind the “barrier” wall of the large painting stage left, holding lighted candelabras that they ultimately left on the floor — suggesting the candles in the church where Federica and Rodolfo were imminently to be wed. Music Director Nicola Luisotti began the evening with a high voltage, tumultuous reading of the restless Overture, which bode well for the events that followed. The solo clarinetist contributed exemplary work the entire night, but never more so than in the beautifully calibrated effects in the Overture. Maestro Luisotti kept the overall arc quickly paced, though perhaps a bit too impulsively driven. In the end, the skilled cast and orchestra delivered a full-throttled, propulsive evening of music making that gave much pleasure, and bestowed considerable honor upon Verdi’s neglected opus. James Sohre recently completed a 40-year career with US Army Entertainment, much of it spent in Germany as the Command-level Entertainment Chief. He continues to travel extensively and write about opera and musical events. He is production coordinator for Opera Las Vegas and heads the Young Artists program for which he just directed “A Passion for Puccini,” an evening of staged arias and scenes from all of Puccini’s works. Details Box: What: Verdi’s Luisa Miller, directed by Francesca Zambello Who: San Francisco Opera Where: San Francisco, CA Performance reviewed: Sep. 22, 2015 The post Sep. 22 SF Opera: Luisa Miller appeared first on CNY Café Momus .
The Bayerische Staatsoper’s wildly popular series of free live streams returns for its fourth season, live and in full HD, on October 28 with a webcast of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos under the baton of General Music Director Kirill Petrenko (not pictured.) More details on the series follow after the jump. Here is the 2015/16 season live stream schedule: October 23, 2015 Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos Musical Direction: Kirill Petrenko Stage Direction: Robert Carsen With Amber Wagner, Brenda Rae, Alice Coote, Peter Seiffert a.o. November 15, 2015 Arrigo Boito Mefistofele (New Production) Musical Direction: Omer Meir Wellber Stage Direction: Roland Schwab With René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais a.o. December 12, 2015 Sergej Prokofjew The Fiery Angel (New Production) Musical Direction: Vladimir Jurowski Stage Direction: Barrie Kosky With Evgeny Nikitin, Evelyn Herlitzius, Elena Manistina a.o. March 19, 2016 Giuseppe Verdi Un ballo in maschera (New Production) Musical Direction: Zubin Mehta Stage Direction: Johannes Erath With Piotr Beczala, Simon Keenlyside, Anja Harteros, a.o. June 12, 2016 Marius Petipa / Ivan Liška Le Corsaire Musical Direction: Aivo Välja Soloists and corps de ballet of the Bavarian State Ballet June 26, 2016 Fromental Halévy La Juive (New Production) Musical Direction: Bertrand de Billy Stage Direction: Calixto Bieito With Kristine Opolais, Roberto Alagna, John Osborn, Aleksandra Kurzak a.o. July 31, 2016 Richard Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (New Production) Musical Direction: Kirill Petrenko Stage Direction: David Bösch With Wolfgang Koch, Christof Fischesser, Jonas Kaufmann, Sara Jakubiak a.o.
Great opera singers