Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A return

So the rumor is confirmed: Dorothea Röschmann, hitherto the Met season's most notable female absence, is singing Donna Elvira beginning next week.

I don't suppose somebody could engage her for a last-minute recital here too? You can hear her from London last week online for about six more days.

UPDATE (12/2): Oops, the BBC thing only works inside the UK. Too bad.

Festive schedule

The press release on the Met's 125th Anniversary Gala hasn't yet appeared on their own website, but Broadway World has it. There are lots of interesting production tidbits, but here's the cast and program:

Charles Gounod: Faust
"Vin ou bière" chorus from Act II: Metropolitan Opera Chorus
"Le veau d'or": James Morris (Méphistophélès)
Jewel song "Ah, je ris de me voir": Angela Gheorghiu (Marguerite)
Trio from Act V "Alerte, alerte": Sondra Radvanovsky (Marguerite), Roberto Alagna (Faust), John Relyea (Méphistophélès)

Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
"Ch'ella mi creda": Plácido Domingo (Dick Johnson)

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Duet "Silenzio! Aida verso noi s'avanza": Maria Guleghina (Aida), Stephanie Blythe (Amneris)

Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov
Boris's Death Scene: René Pape (Boris)

Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco
"Va, pensiero": Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Georges Bizet: Carmen
Final duet "C'est toi...c'est moi": Waltraud Meier (Carmen), Roberto Alagna (Don José)

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
"La donna è mobile": Juan Diego Flórez

Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo
"Ella giammai m'amò": James Morris (King Philip)

Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
Trio "Habt mir's gelobt": Natalie Dessay (Sophie), Deborah Voigt (the Marschallin), Susanne Mentzer (Octavian)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni
"Finch'han dal vino": Mariusz Kwiecien

Richard Wagner: Parsifal
Final scene "Ja, Wehe! Wehe!": Plácido Domingo (Parsifal), Thomas Hampson (Amfortas)


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi
"O mio babbino caro": Maija Kovalevska (Lauretta)

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades
Yeletsky's aria "Ya vas lyublyu": Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
Duet "Figlia, a tal nome io palpito": Angela Gheorghiu (Amelia), Plácido Domingo (Simon)

Richard Wagner: Siegfried
Final scene "Ewig war ich": Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Ben Heppner (Siegfried)

Giacomo Puccini - Three Tenor Arias
La Bohème - "Che gelida manina": Joseph Calleja (Rodolfo)
Tosca - "E lucevan le stelle": Aleksandrs Antonenko (Cavaradossi)
Turandot - "Nessun dorma": Marcello Giordani (Calaf)

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
"È forse lui...Sempre libera": Natalie Dessay (Violetta)

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello
Final scene "Niun mi tema": Plácido Domingo (Otello)

Erich Korngold: Die Tote Stadt
Marietta's lied: Renée Fleming (Marietta)

Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
Final scene: Yvonne Naef (Fricka), Kim Begley (Loge), Garrett Sorenson (Froh), René Pape (Wotan), Lisette Oropesa, Kate Lindsey, and Tamara Mumford (Rhinemaidens)
Meanwhile, I'd like to wish all my American readers a happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ins and outs

It looks like San Francisco Opera's ideal ensemble for La Boheme may have unravelled, with tenor Joseph Calleja's website announcing his cancellation from his dates there with Maija Kovalevska (a much preferable Mimi, from my experience, to Gheorghiu), and Nicola Luisotti not conducting two of those performances anyway. The company's website still lists Calleja, Kovalevska, and Luisotti together on November 29, but I'm not so optimistic.

On this coast, Massimo Giordano, whose recent run in Traviata was mixed at best, will replace Ramon Vargas for the end of Kovalevska's December-January run in Boheme here at the Met.

Of course, this downgrade in Mimi's love life might be quickly forgotten if the rumor Maury passed on about next month's Donna Elvira TBA turns out to be true. Internet rumors have been 0-for-the-season so far, but...

The voice

Weeks ago, amid feasting repeatedly on the stage radiance of Anja Harteros, I got to experience a show featuring a very different star: contralto Ewa Podles. She made two appearances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, though not actually at Lincoln Center -- construction has moved their concerts off-campus to the Society for Ethical Culture's CPW auditorium.

Podles, of course, is not much to look at, either on purely visual criteria (she's unapologetically short, stout, and frumpy) or for drama (she just stands there). This, it's said, is what kept her from the Met between her long-ago debut and her appearances this fall in Gioconda. And there's something to this criticism, except that when she opens her mouth it's quite beside the point. Her sound can more or less be described (better by others than by me), but whatever else one might say of it, it's so obviously and primarily significant that by it alone she deserves presence on whatever stage she might grace. Even now, as the registers sound more and more dissimilar and other signs of age creep in, it's difficult to register much besides surprised pleasure as the stunning sound washes over you for minutes at a time. (Mind you, sound doesn't always carry the day: her attempt at "Der Abschied" a decade or so back was an unintelligible disaster.)

She was actually taking part in an odd mixed CMS program, with uninspiring solo cello and harpsichord bits before Podles and a string quartet closed the first half with Respighi's "Il tramonto". If there's more to this piece than warmed-over early Schoenberg, it didn't show here -- though, as mentioned above, there was much in the performance to arrest the ear. The second half was more complete success: Janacek's "Pohadka" was well played by David Finkel and (especially) Wu Han; Bolcom's "Dream Music #2" (for Harpsichord and Percussion), maybe the most interesting piece of the night, was evocative and authentically dreamy, recognizably of the 1960s without being particularly dated; and finally Podles again sang in Peter Jaffe's string-quintet-and-harpsichord arrangement of Haydn's well-known "Arianna a Naxos".

Here again Podles made no use of the bodily or even fine textual means by which other singers make their point, but in this straightforward scene of sweet desire and bitter abandonment they turned out, at least for her, to be unnecessary. All vital drama and feeling were packed into the overpowering, all-encompassing span of her elemental sound, climaxing in a final "barbaro!" that still rings in my ears today.

I've heard that this may have been her last New York concert appearance. I'm not sure it will, but if so, the event was at least captured for recorded release.

No rest for the Giordani

The Met season wouldn't be complete without Marcello Giordani randomly showing up in another opera. Two Saturdays ago, it was Madama Butterfly, the current production of which he helped premiere two seasons ago. This time he replaced Roberto Aronica as Pinkerton, a day after having sung Faust in the new Damnation. He was admirably solid, but the show -- as it should be -- was the Butterfly's.

Cristina Gallardo-Domas premiered the production with Giordani, and meticulously executed its Japanese-isms to the letter. Patricia Racette starred in two revivals -- last season and again this fall -- and her approach is much freer. Coincidence, or the privilege of not having to be first? In any case, Racette is more effective in the part, despite -- or maybe because -- her impersonation is more a general impression of smallness and restraint than the meticulous small walking, gesturing, etc. of her predecessor. Gallardo-Domas sold the production, but Racette sells Puccini: all things connect to the emotional line of Butterfly. The tremulous timbre that disappointed as Elisabetta cuts movingly here, and though her climactic top notes aren't huge, the clarity of feeling in the build-up almost has us hearing them that way. In body and voice, her Butterfly's nearly bursting with spirit, as all but Pinkerton can easily see.

This was my second experience with Anthony Minghella's Butterfly production, and the circumstance of the particular encounter (that is, seeing it back-to-back with the new Damnation) had me wondering if my earlier praise wasn't too guarded. Perhaps it's not visionary -- though the end-of-Act-I love duet staging, culminating in the flower petal curtain, may come close -- but everything works, and the stage elements' framing of the singers is at once eye-catching, dramatic, and helpful to their projection. How odd that the movie man made such a theatrical show, while the much-praised theater director gave us mere would-be cinema!

And not just the production showed well, but the piece. Helped by Patrick Summers' clear-eyed control (and surprising fire) in the pit and a terrific supporting cast (not least, as ever, Dwayne Croft's Sharpless), Butterfly on this occasion added up to quite a lot. Still not my favorite, but a real occasion of real opera.

UPDATE (1:15PM): It seems Giordani sang the two subsequent Butterfly performances as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tech moment

Posts are coming on the Podles concert, Butterfly, and probably tomorrow's Traviata, but at the moment I'm pleased by a silly Gmail feature.

Yes, finally my email can again look the way email is supposed to.

(It would be nice to be able to adjust the tint a little, though.)

Monday, November 17, 2008


I've been getting numerous hits in the past few days from searches on tenor Ryan Smith, whom I noted in the 2007 Met Council Finals and last season's Ernani. Back then I'd guessed he was bound for the Lindemann program, but life turned out differently. Instead of the Met's young artist program he headed to Lyric Opera of Chicago's. Then, per a story in today's Chicago Tribune,
[a] day after Mr. Smith moved to Chicago from Atlanta, he was hospitalized and later told he had lymphoma.
Aged 31, he died in Chicago on Wednesday.

UPDATE (9PM): The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a story Saturday.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Through a screen darkly

It seems the press isn't prepared to say it, but I will: the new Robert Lepage production of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust is boring. Soporific, empty -- and, least forgivably, literal. The musical preparation and delivery of James Levine, Donald Palumbo and his chorus, Susan Graham, John Relyea, and Marcello Giordani go for naught in a presentation that in fact has less impact than a concert performance.

One cannot just pass the buck to Berlioz himself. Yes, he wrote not an opera but a series of scenes connected (if at all) by dream logic, but within each bit his idiosyncratic musical dramaturgy holds as characters emerge seriatim from the illogic into song. But here drama is entirely suppressed by a production overlay that flattens the human element twice over: literally, first, by confining all action to a basically two-dimensional grid of shallow stacked boxes that's the whole stage set; and then by distraction, hiding and dissolving the figures amid and into ever-changing CGI before and behind them. The effect is more of dolls in a cutaway dollhouse than of men and women locked up with fate, and though this is true to a part of the Berlioz piece, it's that very part that kept the thing offstage all those years. Damnation needs its drama spotlit in the opera house, not hidden.

What we get, instead, is the opposite of drama's human urgency: the empty tranquilization of banal (if pretty) images on screens. Again, even onscreen there is neither actual perspective (after an admittedly memorable underwater light shot in the first part) nor the expansive play of allusion and perspective a more imagined visual accompaniment would provide. Birds, water, grass, a house, withering trees, horses, hellfire -- as complement to the human drama, this flat world would be fine, but as substitute it's thin stuff indeed. And the one human touch -- having Susan Graham (cursed, it seems, to get directors who try to make her disappear) actually climb a ladder at the end -- is far more interesting and effective than the much-noticed trick of turning her into wallpaper for her last solo. That's no coincidence: opera depends on the scale and force of the human figure as much as it does on the scale and force of the unamplified human voice.

It is odd indeed that Peter Gelb, who's much expounded on the importance of drama and theatricality in opera, should be entrusting his most notable new production -- the Ring -- to a man whose work here shows little, if any, interest in such things.

UPDATE (11/17): Intermezzo has photos -- and similar thoughts. I should mention that the one part of the production I did like was Karin Erskine's old-school costuming, particularly the outrageously retro devil outfit and hat.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On the chopping block

With City Opera in limbo and many smaller companies around the country considering closing, it's no surprise that budget problems have hit the Met as well. Today we find that the Ghosts of Versailles revival (and revision) has been axed and the cast switched over to Traviata:
None of the new productions planned for next season would be affected, [Gelb] said, but some revivals being planned may be replaced by cheaper productions.
I fear that some of next season's other notable revivals may be next to get the chop: specifically Herbert Wernicke's work of genius in Die Frau ohne Schatten, scheduled at last to be revived (uncut, I'd been hoping, unlike the disappointing first revival) with another real Strauss conductor, and the familiar John Dexter version of Berg's Lulu. The former is, as I recall, quite elaborate and never quite sold out despite critical raves, while the latter has never sold well despite its beauty and Levine's consistent championing.

I hope I'm wrong, of course. The Wernicke Frau might make a terrific movie presentation. (Though adjusting its lighting effects for the cameras might ruin the show.)

UPDATE (11/14): I'd meant to say this explicitly -- whether or not Wernicke's FroSch is suitable for on-camera moneymaking, I believe it's the greatest production the Met currently has, the high-water-mark of the Volpe era, and as such deserving of not only unaltered revival but prominent place in this season's 125th Anniversary Gala.

But not for me

Via Score Desk, we discover that the Met has entered the ever-popular online quiz field with its "Ask Figaro" feature, which suggests an opera to see based on a grab-bag of odd personal questions.

There's definitely amusement in it, but in my case it picked Madama Butterfly -- probably my least favorite Puccini. (Manon Lescaut? Sure. But not Butterfly.) Of course, maybe the machine knows something I don't, because I am in fact going to see Patricia Racette take her turn in the Minghella production this week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

If I ran the zoo

Like some of the commenters here, Mark Adamo has apparently put some thought into what he might do as City Opera's general manager. In his case, though, he's gone so far as to list actual productions to be mounted.

I don't know if he's at all serious (having "composer" and "librettist" already covered, why not "impresario"?), but I'd hire him. The company needs both vision and a sense of the possible from its head, and his suggestions -- whatever one might think of any one in particular -- show both.

(And yes, I've recently told Maury that this will soon officially become the "link Mark Adamo" blog.)

Subtraction by addition

Serbian baritone Željko Lucic, Germont in the remainder of the season's Traviatas, may be the best singer (as such) therein. But his addition to the cast of this revival (in place of Andrzej Dobber) may also have harmed its overall success.

His virtues first: the full, overtone-rich sound of a "real Verdi baritone" (in this piece, at least -- upcoming performances as Rigoletto and Di Luna will tell the tale), used with admirable legato and a certain rhythmic-dramatic alertness not much shown by his predecessor. These add up each night to a ravishing "Di Provenza" that may now be the vocal highlight of the opera. But Germont is not Rigoletto: he does not carry the dramatic weight of his piece.

Lucic, in fact, may be not wooden enough to make the key scene (Act II scene 1) work. Or, rather, what a lesser baritone conveys here with his limitations -- the implacable respectability of the man as he asks Violetta to give up his son -- finds no expression in the forceful but pleasant mellifluousness of Lucic's performance. In fact he is so responsive, so spirited that it throws off the opera's scheme: why does this man have the heavy's part when, after all, he's clearly more interesting and sympathetic than his callow son? (Massimo Giordano's expressive limitations don't help.) The scene can contain -- and use -- this irony, but Lucic and Anja Harteros have not found their way to it, neither musically nor dramatically. They may yet do so, of course, but the mostly unchanged stage direction of recent revivals -- which calls here for an almost maximally unyielding Germont -- is a real obstacle.

Maury noticed the tenor Giordano crooning in the third act several performances ago. In fact he's thrown in this exaggerated attempt at dynamic contrast in each performance I've seen: most recently (Thursday) it had spread all the way to "Un dì felice", where it compounded an evening-long bout of flatting all the slow parts. He earned the boos some gave him at curtain calls.

UPDATE (11/13): Commenter Cameron Kelsall notes that Dobber (the previous Germont) will return for the very last performance this season -- next Thursday.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Programming note

I won't be able to see the new Met Damnation of Faust until next week. Its premiere was last night, and Mark Adamo already has a thoughtful review.


So after following his plan as incoming general manager/artistic director to gut this season, it seems City Opera has been rejected by Euro-mandarin Gerard Mortier. As I suspected when he was first announced for the post, the culture clash did the union in, as it did Pam Rosenberg and San Francisco's: it looks as if Mortier was simply not committed to dealing with the financial end of things, necessary here as it is not on the other side of the Atlantic. When money dries up, plans must be adjusted; furthermore -- particularly given his ambitious plan for a budget 50% over the company's historical norm -- it was his own very real responsibility to ensure funds for this stuff even in a downturn.

Of course, the credit crisis (lately compounded, in a bit of irony, by the Obama election) brought things to a head sooner than one might have predicted, but the result itself isn't a surprise.

The short-term fallout is unfortunate, with next season's lineup being completely scrapped. It
was to have included Messiaen's "St. François d’Assise," Stravinsky's "Rake's Progress," Glass's "Einstein on the Beach," Janacek's "Makropulos Case," Britten's "Death in Venice" and Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande."
Of course, after this mostly modernist season delighted connoisseurs among acres of empty seats, he might well have been fired anyway.

The Met will be doing the Debussy and the Janacek in upcoming years, but I doubt it will ever do Messiaen's opera. Too bad.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Morandi's tabletop theater

So, two consecutive posts sans opera, why not a third?

The other Met's show of Giorgio Morandi runs through December 14. While I know almost as little of art as I do of dance, I found it quite striking.

Others have seen him through the lens of minimalism or abstraction. Unsurprisingly, given this blog's preoccupations, I was both taken and surprised by the unmistakable dramatic element to many of his still lifes -- particularly those of the 1950s. There are no humans per se, but the forms -- bottles, small boxes, and vases -- there suggest present life on his lit tabletop stage.

The accompanying wall texts are (unlike Morandi himself) overwrought, but that's only slight distraction.

Pseudonymous confessions

A pair of bloggers "tagged" me with one of these informational memes. I'm not intentionally ignoring them. However...

I'm afraid the only odd fact I can share is that I'm really, really protective of my privacy here. Friends tease me about it, which makes a certain sense: I've passed up blogging certain events because they were so small (and all those present identifiable), turned down radio interviews, and missed out on free tickets. I've also been rather worse in spreading the word about opera blogging in general than I'd like. All silly, no?

Nevertheless, so I remain. Perhaps, at least, it helps keep the blog on topic (despite this digression).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Not quite an election day post

Via some PR person in my inbox, a (presumably) Obama-supporting arts blogger wrote a post on Sarah Palin that's actually funny (and neither angry nor mean).

But maybe it's only funny to fans of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" sonata, which said blogger (the soon-very-famous Jeremy Denk) is playing next Tuesday at Zankel.