Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is there a City Opera audience?

One learning about opera by reading reviews in the local press might find many aspects of opera blogging puzzling. One is this: why is New York blog coverage so relentlessly Met-centric? Almost every production, new and old, gets scrutinized, while even galas and premieres across the plaza pass with little notice. In print, meanwhile, both -- each in its little compass -- are dutifully covered with the same range of anodyne descriptions and mini-judgments.

Part of it's idiosyncratic, of course: blogs reflect individual tastes, which happen in this case to align a certain way. But such alignment reflects idiosyncratic responses to an unmistakable difference.

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It was in sitting at a recent City Opera performance of Cav/Pag (one with this year's Tucker winner Brandon Jovanovich, who -- as far as one can tell in that juiced house -- sounded impressive despite a certain lack of Italianata) that I put my finger on it. There is certainly, for better or worse, a Met audience: an amalgamation, yes, but a coherent and meaningful one. And OONY, for example, has an audience some might find a bit too characteristic. But City Opera? True, at times it's a venue of Flanigan fans or the like, or the city's traveling pack of event-hounds encamps at some production. Yet the general impression is something else -- more living room than theater. They -- we -- watch, and applaud, and often seem pleased or moved afterwards, but there's an oddly detached undercurrent. It's an audience that's perhaps heard rumors about its own shape and existence and gives them some credit, but chooses mostly unconcern about such things. And so -- because every performance is also the story of an audience -- life-and-death urgency hardly ever makes it past the footlights here.

Sometimes I think it's the State Theater, a place seemingly designed to turn a public into a mass -- look at the undifferentiated sea of humanity in that huge rectilinear expanse of the only real intermission space... How different from the curves and niches of the Met. Or perhaps it's the inevitable outcome of running the country's biggest regional opera next door to the world's biggest international opera. Or...

Or maybe I'm wrong. But I think I'm onto something.

Is Gerard Mortier, then, the best person to get New York City Opera's audience to recognize themselves as such? I'd be surprised if he is -- assuming it's the current audience he at all wants. But we'll see.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Welcome New Yorker readers...

I'm under the weather and haven't been able to write of late, but it seems bad form to greet people with a two-week-old throwaway post.

At any rate, please see my two years' archived highlights to sample what has been posted here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Less Lucia

It seems the live Sirius-cast of tonight's Lucia that was scheduled to take place was yanked without comment and replaced with a rerun.

Anybody know what's going on? Could it have to do with Giordani's rumored illness?

UPDATE (10/8): The non-broadcast seems to have been part of some previously-arranged schedule shuffle. In fact, Giordani was apparently healthy enough to steal the show as Romeo the very next afternoon (after singing Friday's Edgardo), while it was Mariusz Kwiecien who was replaced just before Friday's Wolf's Crag scene by unexpected debutant Stephen Gaertner.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


As many of his remarks as I find silly or worse (including some in this very article), Gérard Mortier gets one big thing right:
Mortier told the audience of directors, theater administrators and dramaturges that encouraging audiences to see opera onscreen was giving up the crucial element of the art form, the live experience, according to a report from Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

"We shouldn't bring opera to the movies; we should bring people from the movies to the opera," he said.
Gelb's idea, of course, is to do the latter via the former. Whether it works, or whether the tail wags the dog, we'll see in future.

Incidentally, the New York Sun carried a more City Opera-specific piece on their new general manager a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Green eggs and ham

I found myself disappointed with the performance of almost every man in last night's Met revival of Figaro. Most of all in Philippe (son of Armin) Jordan, who had possibly the least impressive conducting outing this Jonathan Miller production has seen since its 1997 debut. (Best? Probably one of Edo de Waart's in 1999 or James Levine's in 2003 or 2005.) Still nevertheless professional, of course, for if he's worst it's among a remarkably well-turned-out group. But too often Jordan got in his own and the singers' way with inexplicable lurches and lags in tempo, vague pit-stage coordination, and an apparent preference for coaxing exquisite small phrases from the orchestra over maintaining the shape of a piece. He drew (from, incidentally, more or less the same players Levine used for Lucia) a forward but unrevealing sound, and while this Nozze showed more energy and forward momentum than his Don Giovanni two years back, they were more bluster than pep. Act 2's second half built to its climax fairly tightly and without too many hitches; the rest was more moments than the whole of Mozart's masterwork.

Also disappointing was Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott in the title role. He doubly so, for his instrument and sound are undeniably impressive. But his overactive hamming, for a while refreshing (as a bit closer to the gesticulating quick-talking Latin factotum we might recognize as the Barber of Seville), soon tried my patience. Yes, he's Figaro -- but Mozart's is a Figaro who feels, whose fear of losing Susanna is and must be wholly real. In Schrott's case, this human element fails to appear from the caricature.

But in this he's definitely been more than encouraged by stage director Robin Guarino, who has fully farce-ified this revival. Figaro has the most business, but additions like the Countess rolling around on the floor with and actually kissing Cherubino in Act 2 (in this version, the Count's suspicion about her is pretty well-founded) abound. The amount of loose comedy makes it feel like week 5 of the revival (Met comedies' stage business tends to get looser and looser as a run goes along) and not the season opener. What will it actually look like by week 5? Who knows.

Michele Pertusi sang decently enough, but lacked the fire and dark sexual energy that predecessors -- most often Dwayne Croft or Peter Mattei -- have brought to the Count. Because of the other circumstances, that sort of driving force in the cast was much missed.

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The women were much better, though having to battle conductor and stage directions kept any from shining at her best. Most impressive was probably Hei-Kyung Hong, whom I've heard both very good and very bad as the Countess. This was much to the good side, her arias as clear as ever (despite some weak spots, the tone is solid) and as honestly felt as anything this evening. Anke Vondung made a solid -- if somewhat straitlaced, though less so than Alice Coote last year -- Met debut as Cherubino, with a very American-mezzo-like sound. I liked debutant Kathleen Kim (Barbarina) a lot. Two other debuts: Robin Leggate (Basilio) and Ashley Emerson (a bridesmaid) -- both sounded fine but I couldn't tell at that length.

Finally, the Susanna -- Lisette Oropesa -- didn't get a program mention, just a printed slip. Her voice took about an act and a half to warm up (or relax), but she sounded good in the classic pingy soubrette-warbly way after that. As for character and feeling, she did about as well as anyone else on this night. Pretty good for a last-minute sub whose previous Met experience consisted of a Cretan bystander in Idomeneo and Trittico's nun #16, but not as much as one might hope for in future (perhaps when she's actually officially engaged ahead of time). But that goes for the entire evening -- I'm not sure even Röschmann's Countess could have made the whole more than it was: a night of easy laughs and few tears.

UPDATE (10/5): Edited to clarify whom the Countess was kissing.

Season four

This post indexes commentary here on the 2007-08 Metropolitan Opera season. It will be updated as new reviews are posted.

Opening Night, the second performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, its spring return, and more
Marriage of Figaro, and its later cast
La Traviata, and its later cast
Iphigenie en Tauride
Roméo et Juliette
Die Walküre
Manon Lescaut: piece, performance, and last performance
Peter Grimes -- and more
Tristan und Isolde
La Boheme
Un Ballo in Maschera: Licitra; Vargas et al.
La Fille du Régiment
La Clemenza di Tito
The Abduction from the Seraglio

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The treacherous "and"

This is ungracious, I know -- and a bit late. Still, at the beginning of the season I've repeatedly heard this conjunction obscuring both truth and sentiment: "Sills and Pavarotti".

Sills was a great local figure, perhaps a national one too. She fully deserved the night of tribute she got at the Met. But one cannot seriously say "Sills and Pavarotti" unless in reference to one of the fantastic performances they did together of, for example, Lucia. ("Caruso and Pavarotti", "Björling and Pavarotti" -- yes. "Domingo and Pavarotti"? -- even Domingo fans, I'm sure, have their doubts.) Luciano Pavarotti, in some not-entirely-metaphorical sense, was opera, and his death was a world and opera-historical event. Even famously parochial New York cannot do without acknowledging his hors concours significance.

If Sills got a night, Pav should get -- what? I hope Gelb and company have something in mind, because it's disgraceful that his death, looming large in the hearts of so much of the audience and the opera world, has gotten no more recognition at the Met than opening night's moment of silence shared with the local favorite who nevertheless sang ~300 fewer performances there than he.