Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Met news

Am I supposed to blog the new season announcement? We've known most of it for a while.

I've been under the weather of late, so maybe later.

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More pressingly, the local Goethe Institute is again hosting a recital series by the young talent in the Met's Lindemann program. Interestingly, unless there are a bunch of John Moores singing baritone, the house seems to be making up for its inexplicable decision not to recognize John Michael Moore at last spring's Met Council Finals.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Vilaine Fille (who unfortunately hasn't operablogged in ages) has posted an interview with Giuseppe Filianoti. L'Arlesiana -- the opera in which he'll sing tonight for Opera Orchestra of New York -- is among the topics mentioned.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I feel blog coverage of Jenufa should close with Maury at the stage door hailing the cast, but one quick note.

Whether she's now 66 or 71, I wouldn't be surprised to see Anja Silja return to the Met stage. But if Saturday's matinee was her last bow here, it was a fine close: in her best, most vocally powerful performance of the last weeks, Silja sang and acted with a young woman's energy. The amount communicated by her simply bending over or stretching herself up was remarkable.

Meanwhile matinee audiences continued their habit of being the loudest and worst-behaved: from nonstop coughing to a cell-phone ring in the space before the final duet, the relatively full house did their best to derail the performance. Maybe we were lucky -- in the immediate sense, anyway -- to have smaller, dedicated audiences for most of the revival.

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The latest casting rumors, incidentally, confirm my guess about next season's Manon Lescaut. And there's also something that the Jenufa/Onegin juxtaposition brought to mind... Actually, all the new details seem promising (except for a Norma almost as disastrous as the last), including Sondra Radvanovsky in the new Trovatore. Hey, didn't someone claim she'd been fired? Fortunately not.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Jenůfa, Jenůfa, Jenůfa

The Met run of Jenufa has been well and thoroughly blogged, by familiar
Alex Ross
Maury (and again and again)
Alex of Wellsung
Sieglinde (and a good explanation of matters box office)
and unfamiliar (to me, anyway)
Show Showdown
Moths and Anvils (with a cameo by someone I hope isn't Alex Ross)
Opera, knitting, and all is well
Theater Snobbery at its Finest
Felix Salmon
arts & other
(plus others of which I've lost track). Even Tommasini has gotten around to getting a Jenufa-related profile in the NYT. So yet another post on it here? I beg your indulgence.

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The performances since the first two have had three different casts: one per night. As before mentioned, Kim Begley showed signs of indisposition last Tuesday and was unable to repeat his powerful Laca-assumption of four years back. On Saturday, Judith Forst took a one-off turn as the Kostelnička, while another cast member (Diane Elias, as the Old Shepherdess) succumbed to indisposition and was replaced by Ellen Rabiner. Two nights ago (Valentine's Day), Rabiner was again the Old Shepherdess, while fill-in Števa Raymond Very left to allow Jay Hunter Morris his Met debut.

Forst first. She was everything Anja Silja isn't, and as much as Silja's first performance made me wish for someone like Forst, Forst's performance made me wish for Silja again. Silja's Kostelnicka is a tall, upright, far-seeing alien, standing strictly apart from locals with whom she has little to nothing in common. (Only Karita Mattila's Jenufa may be akin.) This means some of the things the libretto puts into her mouth seem downright odd -- the trousseau, for example, seems only to make sense as a bizarre form of penance she took upon herself. Forst, on the other hand, is neither tall nor strikingly thin, but has a noticably richer, lower-centered (she is a mezzo) voice. Her Kostelnicka looks, sounds, and in fact acts quite at home among the rustic population of the piece. Vocally, every note sounds -- which is not the case for Silja: the bottom is merely a hint over orchestra -- but cries and top notes induce no chills.

On balance, while Forst's conception may be more correct, I find that Silja's expands the scope and meaning of the opera. Forst's character is not her stepdaughter's equal; Silja's is, and the visible transfer of guilt and anxiety from one to the other at the crux is a huge touch.

Morris, I thought, nailed the physical character of Steva -- this time as a big, good-natured but unfortunately cowardly lug. That his sound was a bit constricted may have been debut nerves; at any rate the overall effect wasn't unpleasant. (He was, incidentally, included in Mattila's curtain-call kiss lineup.) Rabiner has done fine in her small part.

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As for the carryover cast, Silja and Jorma Silvasti -- and, indeed, Barbara Dever as the Grandmother -- seem stronger and more authoritative now than when the production began. In the center of the revival meanwhile, as the only cast member who hasn't gotten any sort of break, Mattila is ever terrific, but Wednesday found her for the first time audibly working around vocal unease. (In an odd counterbalance, she showed more physical abandon than ever.) I hope it was a night-specific thing, or conserving resources for tomorrow's broadcast: with (finally) the same cast twice again, things are -- if she's healthy -- set for a great event.


There's mean and there's funny, and this (written by an actual Fleming fan, no less...) is hilarious.


scene-by-scene synopsis with production photos

Does anyone -- outside, perhaps, the school groups who populate the upper levels of a dress rehearsal -- read the miscellany of quotes patched together for each broadcast opera at the Met Broadcast website? The Eugene Onegin page includes this pre-emptive lament by the composer:
Where shall I find the Tatyana whom Pushkin imagined and whom I have tried to picture in music? Where is the artist who can even approach the ideal Onegin, that cold dandy penetrated to the marrow with worldly bon ton? Where is there a Lensky, an eighteen-year-old youth with the thick curls and impetuous and original ways of a young poet a la Schiller? How Pushkin's charming and original picture will be vulgarized when it is transferred to the stage, with its routine, its senseless traditions, its veterans of both sexes who ... shamelessly take on the roles of sixteen-year-old girls and beardless youths.
In fact, the opera works for a fair range of Tatyanas, Onegins, and Lenskys -- broader, anyway, than the viable character range in, say, Der Rosenkavalier. Still, I think the current revival gets two of these three exactly right in a way that feels unprecedented.

Ramón Vargas as Lensky I've already praised. Dmitri Hvorostovsky is about as remarkable, despite being bored with his role. His public and stage persona is Onegin, "that cold dandy penetrated to the marrow with worldly bon ton": as Maury put it, "his vocal suavity and the hint of coldness about him are Onegin in a nutshell". So perhaps Hvorostovsky's bored with his own part in the world -- which, too, fits Pushkin's creation. At any rate, he sounds great, his endless breath making much of Onegin's brush-off of Tatyana.

But Hvorostovsky's excellent Onegin is a detached one, not the self-involved actor that Thomas Hampson last made of him. So the story needs a more active Tatyana, and there unfortunately Renée Fleming isn't the best. Now she makes an overall success of her part, keeping unfortunate Fleming-isms in check and well deploying The Beautiful Voice™, particularly in the finale. But both temperament and voice are best suited to the rapt, contemplative side of Tatyana's part and not the declamation that makes up so much of her letter scene. It's an uneasy fit, more noticable next to these ideal male colleagues.

Elena Zaremba (the Olga) shows two main virtues: she's Russian, and she looks plausible as Fleming's sister. The rest is unobjectionable, but doesn't this golden age of mezzos call for better?

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The real star of the last revival, I thought, was Vladimir Jurowski. The warm sound and old-school phrasing he drew from the pit filled in perfect complement the cool open expanses of Robert Carsen's production. This time Jurowski's more famous Russian colleague, Valery Gergiev, takes a more objective approach to the score. On opening night (heard over the wire, anyway) Gergiev whipped through Act I with dramatic fire, carrying Fleming and Hvorostovsky along in an awesome climax that later acts couldn't recapture. On Tuesday he was more deliberate, almost frustratingly so at the beginning. It seemed more of an epic than dramatic reading: about the only really consistent thing was Gergiev's love of playing dance music incredibly fast. With such a mercurial, dramatically responsive conductor, the difference could simply be in the temperature of the audience.

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Whatever Pushkin's poem shows, I'm not sure Onegin comes off so badly in Tchaikovsky's rendering. Now his provocation of Lensky is pretty low, but what about that garden scene? It seems to me he does as well as one could in that situation: being rejected is hard, but having to reject honest feeling is terribly tricky. I've always been sympathetic, even (or particularly!) while on the receiving end.

In fact, the opera may take almost as bleak a view of coupled happiness as, say, Bluebeard's Castle. Though they may talk of what might have been, is it not clear that Onegin's desire arose from Tatyana's new remoteness, as hers was inflamed by his cold nature? And the expressive, mutual love of Olga and Lensky -- it's too much to take: she gets bored, even if only for that short, fatal span. Ah, love.

UPDATE (1:25PM): I forgot to mention that I believe the lighting has been changed from the previous revival. The end of the letter scene, in particular, seems different (it's all lit instead of moon&stars), but there may be other altered elements. (Or I may be misremembering.) Is this to accomodate the movie-cast?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


When I say that Ramón Vargas is the ideal Lenski, I mean no slight to his great predecessors, many of whom (Sobinov, Kozlovsky, etc.) had the irreplacable advantage of being native speakers. Nor would I call him flawless, nor most resplendent: there have been more tonally delicious performances of the part in this very production (not too many, mind you). No, no, never mind all that. Vargas is more completely and vividly Lenski than anyone at the Met has been any character this season -- including the heavyweights onstage tonight -- and he is a Lenski of rare character. For once, I believe Lenski is a poet, even a good one: there is no indulgence or affectation in him, and every note, phrase and gesture is transparent in showing a real sensibility, retiring by habit until unselfconsciously called forth by love or honor. His sound in the part is as clear as this phrasing and characterization, if not as uniquely remarkable. It's revelatory.

More on last night's Onegin later.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tenor watch (miscellany)

Salvatore Licitra sounded pretty good on yesterday's broadcast Cav/Pag, but to be honest it was a shadow of his impact in the house. He shows, especially in Pagliacci, the thrillingly full middle voice that one simply doesn't hear these days -- despite a wealth of current tenors.

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I'm as suspicious of the OONY scene as anyone, but seeing Giuseppe Filianoti and Latonia Moore (whom, I admit, I haven't heard in seven years) together is too tempting to pass up. Even if it is L'Arlesiana.

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You may have noticed that Kim Begley, who sounded a bit ill and out of sorts last Tuesday, was unable to recover from whatever kept him from the first few recent Jenufas. Jorma Silvasti goes back to Laca, and in the last two performances unknown-to-me Jay Hunter Morris steps in as Steva. I hope he makes much of it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

At home, for once

It sounds like I'm missing an event. (I'd forgotten Gergiev was doing this.)

Free live stream here.

West Side name-whoring

Coming soon (maybe): Lincoln Center Abu Dhabi.

Of course one expects this from the French or the Guggenheim chain, but Lincoln Center? Lunacy.

Where's Joe Volpe when you need him?

UPDATE (2/15): A reader emails me that Volpe may actually have been involved in the genesis of this thing.

Which leaves me wondering, I guess, where's Joe Volpe when Joe Volpe needs him?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


As you may have noticed, I'm wrestling with the new Blogger template system. I hope to get the color scheme widgets working again soon.

I also plan to add cast and synopsis reference links to my recent reviews.

UPDATE (2:45PM): I put the original back. I'll do some offline tinkering before re-implementing the new template.

21 seems a bit young...

But maybe that's the target demographic.

To be honest, LA Opera has a nicer page.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The turkey

I don't think I've ever been to a performance where the entire cast was as visibly unengaged in the opera as last night's I Puritani. The men, it seemed, would rather have been doing anything else but singing in this revival, and the woman (to be fair, Maria Zifchak was OK in her walk-on part) -- ahh, Anna Netrebko. She was engaged, it's true, at least for her solos. But with the opera, and her character's fate? Unfortunately not. It was the (unmediated) toying of a star with an audience prepared to adore her.

After an abominable entrance scene of ill-supported crooning (the point at which I switched off last month's matinee broadcast), Netrebko's vocal night did improve as it went on. With her high notes long-held and mostly (when in tune) solid, and a now-stable darker squillante fullness in slower parts, she even made a sonic success of her part. Well, as much of a success as an Elvira who goes off pitch with every (muddled) coloratura passage can have.

But let's be clear: just because Netrebko is young, thin, and mobile does not mean she can act. In fact, her "acting" works best when she sits still in a pose and hits a high note; in motion, her gestures fall between a nice try and bad camp. Of course she's not at all helped by her trapped colleagues, the bland production of Sandro Sequi, and the invisible stage direction of Sharon Thomas, but the essential culprit is -- as in last season's Don Pasquale -- her own lack of interest in the character she's playing. Elvira's inner contest between sweetness and sublimated rage? Nowhere to be seen. The real contest is between the bored audience and this would-be star trying to shake them out of their seats by any means to hand (or, as with the lying-over-the-pit stunt, head). Bellini is not the winner.

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Let's not, however, take this as an excuse to tar the composer or even his much-maligned librettist Pepoli. The action, if unbelievable, is a decent correlative for the slow and quick melodies, contrasts, and elaborations that make the score enjoyable even in this provincial-level presentation. And credit to Patrick Summers, too, for sustaining a respectable and even occasionally urgent musical underpinning to the mess. Under his baton flutist Michael Parloff had, I thought, the best bel canto moments of the night.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

On hearing Jenůfa (again)

I began going to multiple performances of Karita Mattila productions here because I discovered (years ago) that any particular evening might turn out like, well, this one. As good as was Monday's Jenufa season premiere, it now seems but a dress rehearsal for Friday night's overwhelming account.

It was not even Mattila's particular triumph! Yes, she is as good as she's ever been, and the wholehearted, transcendent acceptance in act 3's redemption music may even have been new, but that is her standard. On this night, though, everyone was so inspired, from Silvasti -- again terrific in his character dynamic with Mattila, through to the remarkable final scene -- to Silja, whose act 2 solo and act 3 cry at seeing the baby's cap were blood-curdling, and not least conductor Jiri Belohlavek. On Monday orchestral and stage voices bumped pellmell into each other (as the last post complained), but this time all the Met's forces followed Belohlavek's compulsion -- and each other's -- even as the river of his sound idea ran wilder and more urgently than was even hinted Monday, in now-truly-intoxicating course.

Janacek's genius -- his idea of life, and sound -- was well served. Mattila appeared moved to the edge of tears at her ovation.

UPDATE (11:15AM): Forgot to mention concertmaster Nick Eanet, whose obbligato in Jenufa's act 2 prayer was as expressive as any sound all evening.
UPDATE 2 (2/7): Not only did I forget Eanet, I forgot when his solo actually happens (earlier).

Friday, February 02, 2007

On hearing Jenůfa

On its initial Met presentation four years ago, the current Olivier Tambosi production (with Frank Philipp Schlössmann's striking sets and costumes) of Janacek's piece drew two main musical criticisms: first, that Deborah Polaski's characteristically inward Kostelnicka was uncommunicative and on too small an emotional scale; second, that conductor Vladimir Jurowski's (also characteristic) lyrical approach short-changed the score's rustic and dramatic elements.

These both have changed, but at least as striking is the turnover in tenors. Jorma Silvasti (the current Laca) sings well and reveals details of character missing in Kim Begley's original version -- the mischievousness in Laca's first-act baiting and stalking of Jenufa is terrific -- but Begley's fearless power made the moral gravity of the man better stand out. Raymond Very, on the other hand, sounds good but misses some of the character of Steva, in particular the handsome-playboy manner that predecessor Christopher Ventris embodied well. On the whole, not an improvement, but later performances will have Begley back as Laca and Silvasti as Steva.

Anja Silja had been Kostelnicka when Karita Mattila and this production had been in London, and 2003's reviews tended to lament her absence. Meanwhile she has hit 71, and may finally be showing it: the top, while still forceful, has constant wobble and pitch issues, while the rest of the voice is barely audible over orchestra. (She showed solider voice just a year ago, in Erwartung.) Still, there's enough to do what she does, which is considerable. There is a clarity and audience focus to her acting that fits the clear white sound she's always had, and Silja is spellbinding from the Kostelnicka's upright walk on stage in the first act to her tortured mental turns of the last two.

I agreed, at the time, with reservations about Polaski -- her partnership with Mattila has often been a wierd hot-and-cold mismatch -- but Jurowski has long struck me as one of the best guest conductors, allowing and encouraging not only singers but the terrific Met Orchestra winds to phrase as they should. Still, many seem not to like him, and a somewhat less refined Jenufa can certainly work.

Presumably more authentic is Czech conductor Jiri Bělohlávek, and he definitely injects a certain full-blooded vitality to the sound of the current revival. In fact the orchestral climaxes are often terrific, with Belohlavek drawing bursts of the most glorious sound and energy. But his (perhaps intentionally) haphazard sense of coordination causes him to step on singers' phrases, spoiling some of the best character moments. Perhaps the cast will adapt by the end of the run, but this evening could have used a somewhat firmer hand at the wheel.

Finally, if audiences may be growing weary of Mattila doing reruns (though a look back shows the same "why aren't people going?" lament in 2003), she herself certainly isn't. On stage she is as energized as she's ever been, and in larger voice than ever.

Don't miss it.