Friday, September 09, 2005

An opening

Was it, I wonder, director Stephen Lawless, costume designer Ashley Martin-Davis, or indeed soprano Pamela Armstrong herself who decided to present her (Capriccio) Countess as a dowdy depressive? Mr. Martin-Davis at least draws from it two 'Act*'-closing costume-change coups de theatre: the latter is really striking, enough so that one might forgive the original error... if that were just a costuming matter. But this Countess remains in manner as she begins in dress: neither bright nor composed nor particularly attractive, but -- as a friend put it -- 'like a woman going through menopause.' There's a pathos of its own to it, as every slight bit of mood-lightening shines in her cloud of gloom, but it's not Strauss.

Strauss comes off best anyway. City Opera provides an uncharacteristically satisfying** top-to-bottom cast. (Was it the joke of City Opera's administration to make this performance -- honoring Paul Kellogg's 10th anniversary with the company -- center around La Roche? Halfvarson quite overwhelmed the reduced Countess.) Manahan's orchestra admirably conveys the sense of the piece, and the production generally works. That Armstrong has been too long to the School of Fleming (who despite her glorious voice makes a hash of every Strauss character), and that the production shows less and less sense after that last striking bit of costume, is unfortunate but not the story. I'll go back.

As for the opera, that's another post -- or book -- but Tomassini seems to me to miss the point by saying 'Music wins, hands down.' For Strauss it's neither words nor music that are first; first -- and last -- is the eternal-feminine.

* The opera has no intermission, but the house stuck one in at the serving of chocolate.
** Caveat: due to its varyingly-(and secretly-)employed electronic acoustic "enhancement" system, City Opera is a poor place to evaluate singers. Performances there may, in fact, even be off-topic.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.