Monday, March 28, 2011

The week in NY opera (Mar 28-Apr 3)

Metropolitan Opera:
Capriccio (M/F), Comte Ory (T/SE), Rheingold (W/SM), Tosca (Th)
Strauss and Krauss' Capriccio begins its second-ever run at the Met (the first in 13 years) with Andrew Davis again conducting. Its final scene was the least successful part of Fleming's opening night a few seasons back, but she's been known to improve. Rheingold returns from this season's opener, but Levine's health has Fabio Luisi in the pit this time. (Incidentally, I'm pretty sure the Gelb-era trend of chopping intermissions will extend to the spurious one stuck into Capriccio for its premiere run, making for four really long one-act shows this week.)

New York City Opera:
Monodramas (T/Th/SM), Elisir (F/SuM)
Haven't seen these yet.

Carnegie Hall:
Jessica Rivera recital (T)
Röschmann/Daniels concert with Juilliard
415 (Sunday 2pm)
Rivera, a soprano better known for doing contemporary works, sings two old-school classics (Schumann's Frauenliebe and Debussy's Ariettes oubliées) before premiering a new Mark Grey cycle. Sunday's duo concert is all Handel, which may get me to attend despite wondering how Röschmann seemingly only shares the concert stage with singers I dislike.

Alice Tully Hall:
Matthew Polenzani recital (Sunday 5pm)
Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, accompanied by Julius Drake. A must-see.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The week in NY opera (March 21-27)

Metropolitan Opera:
Queen of Spades (M/SM), Romeo (T/SE), Comte Ory (Th), Tosca (F)
The big event is, of course, the Comte Ory premiere with Florez, DiDonato, and Damrau. Tosca also returns with a new, old-style cast: Urmana, Licitra, and Morris. Meanwhile both Queen of Spades and Romeo finish their runs on Saturday -- and if you haven't yet seen the Tchaikovsky, you should do so. Tuesday night's Romeo is conducted by Paul Nadler, not Domingo, so if you're interested in the show that's the one to see.

New York City Opera:
Elisir (T/Th/SM), Monodramas (F/SuM)
NYCO's spring season begins at last, with a revival of Jonathan Miller's Elisir production alternating with its triple-bill of one-soprano short operas (by Zorn, Schoenberg, and Feldman) from the last century. (If no one goes, at least they only have to pay three singers...)

Avery Fisher Hall:
New York Philharmonic Bluebeard's Castle (T)
Third of three concert performances of Bartok's masterpiece.

Alice Tully Hall:
Little Orchestra Society Joan of Arc at the Stake (M)
Instead of its usual childrens' fare, the the company is offering what seems to be a fairly elaborate version of Honegger's oratorio "Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher".

Maurizio Pollini plays Book I of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier at Carnegie Hall 3pm on Sunday.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The tech demo

Lucia di Lammermoor - Metropolitan Opera, 3/16/2011
Dessay, Calleja, Tezier, Youn / Summers

One more quick look at Lucia before the afternoon's run-ending moviecast (which I won't see until it's on television):

As usual, Wednesday's last pre-moviecast performance was marred by active cameras and monitors all over the house: if you sat near the front of Orchestra or in Side Parterre, the monitoring screens were particularly distracting -- no attempt at all to isolate the light from these screens to only the crew watching them. And moviecast lighting gave the pit much more prominence than usual in the orchestral introductions. Be careful you know what you're getting into when you buy a seat for one of these evenings.

Nevertheless, it was a fantastic performance. The supporting men seemed a shade off, perhaps adjusting and preparing themselves for the big show at week's end. The two principals, however, were undimmed, each going for it rather more than one might have expected. Natalie Dessay's new engagement with the part seems at last to be in full focus -- and it is, in fact, a different take than in the originial run three seasons ago. Her voice, shifted down in its center (the top is now the sticky part), seems with Wednesday's show finally to have filled out to its new shape, and is (by her standard) again full-bodied through its range: though the performance itself wasn't immaculate, the sound was note-for-note satisfying throughout, and the improvement from the run's shaky start quite remarkable. The interpretation has changed too, become a bit more conventional and conventionally Dessay: no longer stifled in all her relations, this Lucia is free and deeply happy within her relationship with Edgardo (the problem is that it has an end), and even shifts into Marie-style happy scurrying around on thinking of him in the first act. This provides a nice contrast with her still and inward misery in Lucia's second-act interactions (quite precisely felt and depicted at this point in the run), and though the never-quite-joyful-until-madness version of Dessay's 2007-08 take was a wonder, there's something to this setup too, where the joy-misery contrast is clear both before and after.

And heck, if you could hear Joseph Calleja sing as he does here every time you met him, who wouldn't be happy? On Wednesday he was perhaps more ardent and more generous with his sound than yet before in this magical run.

There were some minor sync issues, but Summers seems to be sharpening the show up on the phrase level too. We'll see what the afternoon brings.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Met Council Finals 2011

National Council Grand Finals Concert - Metropolitan Opera, 3/13/2011
Brownlee et al. / Summers

As noted a week ago, this was the first Council Finals in a while that I couldn't hear with my own two ears. I do have two correspondents, though, who complement each other: one a bit more measured (A), the other a bit more opinionated (B). So, on to their words, with only formatting and minor editorializing by me.

*     *     *

Philippe Sly (bass-baritone, 22)
"Sibilar gli angui d'Aletto" (Rinaldo)
"O du mein holder Abendstern" (Tannhäuser)
A: I sensed a bit of nerves in the Handel piece that led me to believe that as the youngest of the group, he could use a bit more seasoning, but the Wagner was an aurally stunning moment of feeling (excellent line and phrasing). The youngest of the lot.
B: Philippe Sly, the French Canadian bass baritone masquerading as a tenor won and it will be interesting to see where his voice settles. He was the first to sing, so there were some nerves in his first aria from Handel, and he was sometimes staring at the stage floor, but he improved with "O'mein holder Abendstern." His voice is too light for Wolfram; however he did a respectable job and it was a short-lived pleasure to hear the Met Orchestra accompany him; a bit like being in a Bentley just to cross Central Park.

Deanna Briewick (soprano, 24)
"En proie a la Tristesse" (Comte Ory)
"Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" (Falstaff)
A: Pleasant enough, but uninspiring. I wish I had more to say, but I don't really. The basic voice just did not appeal to me.
B: Voice was small, breathy, high coloratura top, but nothing beneath. Girly and colorless.

Joseph Lim (baritone, 28)
"Hai gia vinta la causa" (Figaro)
Igor's aria (Prince Igor)
A: A little too restrained in the Mozart (he didn't quite capture the frustration--the "foiled again" aspect--of the aria), but made up for it quite well in the Borodin; presenting as a singer who understood what he was singing and and the feeling behind it, I felt the Borodin was a daring choice for a competition and was wondering how well he'd do with it, and I was not disappointed.
B: A bit generic in the Mozart, kind of barky, but I liked him singing in Russian.

Ryan Speedo Green (bass-baritone, 24)
Banco's aria (Macbeth)
"La calunnia" (Barber)
A: Best name for an American opera singer, evah (or at least this century)! [I agree -ed.] Seriously, could potentially be a cross between Morris Robinson and Kurt Moll. Subtle/nuanced phrasing in the Verdi, personality personified in the Rossini. Problem w/loudness though (see below).
B: His career may be for slowly sung parts like Sarastro, Grand Inquisitor and Commendatore. He has a rich voice but is a bit generic, I wished for more agility in the Rossini.

Sasha Djihanian (soprano, 25)
"Non disperar" (Giulio Cesare)
"Signore, ascolta" (Turandot)
A: Of the remaining women (of whom I liked both), she was the one I liked marginally better (in terms of sound). She has a warm, full, and (importantly) distinct tone, and crisp diction displayed to really good effect in the Handel (though it may have worked against her in the Puccini).
B: An interesting, solid lyric soprano with a well developed voice and technique. Polished, non-histrionic stage presence. Of everyone in the competition, she is the one I'd be most interested in hearing again.

Nicholas Masters (bass, 26)
"Il lacerato spirito" (Boccanegra)
Bottom's Dream (Midsummer Night's Dream)
A: I liked him, but perhaps he was too polished, perhaps too uneven in the register, perhaps not daring enough in what he chose to sing (compared to Mr. Lim)? Who knows? I honestly can't say.
B: His Verdi aria was my favorite moment in the competition. Intelligently sung, and very nice legato. Hate to say this, but he perhaps could have won if he'd nixed the Britten aria, which went over the audience like a lead balloon.

Michelle Johnson (soprano, 28)
"Io son l'umile ancella" (Adriana Lecouvreur)
"Dove sono" (Figaro)
A: Absolutely hideous dress, but ample cleavage for those who want to know about such things. Seriously, she wowed the crowd, with rich, lovely, innate sound in both the Cilea and the Mozart, but I thought the Mozart was a bit sloppy/rushed/tense (pick one). The trills at the end didn't float enough to make my hair stand on end—one of those must have moments that make the aria for me.
B: All of soprano Michelle Johnson's family and fan club turned out for her this afternoon. Wish she could have told them not to clap and holler before her first aria, "Io son l'umile ancella" from Adriana Lecouvreur fully ended. Lovely, full, gigantic voice, but does not seem the type to disappear into her characters. There is of course room for singers like that. She went for the shock and awe treatment and it worked.

Joseph Barron (bass-baritone, 25)
"Vi ravviso" (Sonnambula)
"Vous qui faites l'endormie" (Faust)
A: Named after the last Morse villain? At first I felt he was too much toward the baritone end of the register, but eventually he did show a satisfactory bottom-end. As I was listening to him, the singer that came to mind was Cornell McNeil (particularly as Germont). Maybe someday?
B: Seems destined to sing parts like the Baron Ochs and the title role of Don Pasquale. Someone's got to do them, and this hammy bass did a nice job with his arias. Maybe the elegance will come later on.

[Sly, Lim, Green, Johnson, and Barron were the announced winners.]
A: I got to pontificating on how the judges were going to evaluate this year's finalists and choose winners among a very gifted and well-deserving bunch, and of course seeing if I could pick 'em (I got 60%).

From where I sat, most of the performers had difficulty consistently projecting/controlling their voices at some point. The quiet bits were too quiet (but not inaudible), and the loud bits were not quite loud enough. In contrast, former winner Lawrence Brownlee, who, pardon the expression, rocked the house with his guest arias, has certainly mastered the art of singing delicately, loudly. I guess that's something that will come later in their training, along with more intense work to build the complete opera singer. But it was an enlightening moment of potential and potential realized.

Based on what I've heard, and the actual results, I'm concluding that winning is determined not so much by who are "the best" singers on finals day in any given year, but on who has the most potential to be realized, and who the prize, along with the doors it opens, might help most.

The two I missed on were Mr. Sly and Mr. Lim, who didn't have spectacular opening arias, but impressed after intermission (feeling, understanding, and daring trumped the mugging).
[Sometimes it's potential over polish, sometimes the judges just screw up or have bizarre likes/dislikes. Just being in this concert will get all the finalists opportunities to prove themselves as they go along, though. -ed.]
B: The two singers I liked the most -- Sasha Djihanian, who's competing at Cardiff, and Nicholas Masters -- were shut out.
[This blog will have a Cardiff correspondent this year, so we'll see. -ed.]

*     *     *

Thanks to both correspondents!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The week in NY opera (March 14-20)

Doing these posts reminds me: it's disgraceful that all arts organizations don't already have obvious and accessible calendars that one can easily add (via CalDAV or the like) to one's personal electronic schedule. I can put every sports team schedule in the world onto my smartphone with a few simple clicks -- why not the Met, or Carnegie Hall? Not to mention the less prominent organizations whose dates might otherwise be forgotten.

Metropolitan Opera:
Romeo (M/SE), Queen of Spades (Tu/F), Lucia (W/SM), Boris (Th)
The Queen of Spades is a fantastic show nearly (that is, not quite) ruined by endless stage-change pauses between scenes. And what happened to the fog for Lisa's last scene? A long post will follow. Lucia -- in which Joseph Calleja continues to drop jaws, and Natalie Dessay seems to have kept her improved form since the premiere -- finishes with two more performances including Saturday's matinee moviecast. Boris is finishing too, still sans Gergiev.

Avery Fisher Hall:
New York Philharmonic Bluebeard's Castle (F/SE)
Salonen conducts Bartok's masterpiece of inviolable human loneliness after some Ligeti and Haydn. Michelle deYoung and Gabor Bretz are the leads for these concert performances.

Atlantic Stage 2 (330 W.16th St.):
Pocket Opera NY Alcina (Th/SaE/SuM)
The small company takes on a big Handel opera. Thursday night is a $75 opener; the other shows are $25.

No Levine, but the Boston Symphony's Carnegie Hall visit still has promising nights -- violinist Christian Tetzlaff plays concertante pieces by Mozart, Bartok, and Harrison Birtwistle on Tuesday, and Andris Nelsons takes a night off from the Met's Queen of Spades to conduct Mahler 9 on Thursday.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More changes

This week's main Met news was, of course, the announcement that Angela Gheorghiu's cancellation spree had extended to next season's new/imported Faust. On this and Peter Gelb's predictably unhappy response I'll have more here anon: closer changes first.

First is, again, the Met, for which Valery Gergiev never made it out of St. Petersburg to do his scheduled performances of Boris. Originally the cancellation was announced as Wednesday-only, but his backup Pavel Smelkov will conduct this afternoon's radio broadcast as well.

On the other side of the country, soprano Anja Harteros has canceled her San Diego run of Rosenkavalier (which was supposed to be her role debut as the Marschallin). I had actually planned on going for this -- she, with tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, is the least explicable ongoing star absence of the Gelb era. This cancellation on top of Furlanetto's -- he had been scheduled for Ochs -- has me thinking again about the pair of cross-country flights, but San Diego Opera did get a most interesting last-minute replacement: Twyla Robinson, whose naturally Strauss-flavored voice was one of the highlights of her 2002 Met Council Finals triumph.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Vasco de Kirk

L'Africane - Opera Orchestra of New York, 3/2/2011
Giordani, Taigi, Dehn, Mvinjelwa, Mobbs / Queler

Meyerbeer and Scribe's L'Africane doesn't, in fact, seem to have any Africans in it: the exotic characters turn out to be Indians, though I'm not sure whether it's my understanding or the creators' that's more confused here. (Was it supposed to be a non-subcontinental kingdom founded by Indians who ended up closer to the Cape? That makes little sense, but not much in this concoction does.) Its central figure, Vasco de Gama, did in fact make it to India, though he's probably better known these days for having a Rio soccer team named after him. As you might guess, the piece is utter nonsense as history or geography -- it's slightly better as opera, though.

Hugh Macdonald's program note suggestion that this posthumous score is Meyerbeer's masterpiece seems reasonable enough. L'Africane doesn't, after all, ruin its best musical scene with a mind-bendingly preposterous wrapper (as Huguenots does), and in its last acts does assemble a number of musically rewarding scenes in reasonably close proximity ("O Paradis" and the Vasco/Selika duet in Act IV; the Selika/Inez duet and Selika death monologue in Act V). But it's still characteristic Meyerbeer and Scribe, for all that implies: wooden, predictable, and unimaginative construction on the scene level, and an overall story sense perfectly attuned to the humbug of their day. This latter quality served well to make Meyerbeer the 19th century James Cameron (or, um, Michael Bay?), but has not worn well to the present.

So while today we can still savor its sort of Orientalist exoticism in other French Romantic operas (Pearl Fishers, Lakme) and French-Russian ballets (the scenario would have been much better in the hands of Petipa), the Meyerbeer/Scribe peculiarity of L'Africane itself makes for a slog. Again (like Huguenots) we have the wish-fulfillment hero, who despite being a narcissistic boob is adored by all the ladies -- including, in the manner of Vasco's futuristic successor James T. Kirk, the lovely alien princess who sacrifices herself for him -- again we have the chorus used endlessly for background noise chants of "you suck!"/"you're great!", and so on.

The cast sang well enough though not exceptionally. Marcello Giordani (Vasco) had his high notes but didn't transcend his generally workmanlike musicianship, US-debuting soprano Chiara Taigi (Selika) sang with confidence but a not-quite-matching instrument (stronger on bottom than top), while the best supporting singers were two low-voiced men: Daniel Mobbs as the Portugese bad guy and Harold Wilson in the small part of the High Priest of Brahma.

There's enough nice music here for a good highlights CD (besides the above, there's also Selika's famous second-act showpiece), but again one regrets that Wagner couldn't find a better model of what big opera really was.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The week in NY opera (March 7-13)

Metropolitan Opera:
Romeo (M/Th), Lucia (Tu/SE), Boris (W/SM), Queen of Spades (Fr)
Met Council Finals (Sunday 3pm)

The Queen of Spades -- the season's only Karita Mattila show -- begins Friday. Rene Pape's Boris meanwhile returns for a radio broadcast after its initial fall run, during which I decided I can't stand the piece (as good as Pape himself is). And, again, don't miss Lucia.
Blog note: for the first time since this blog went live I'm going to miss the Council Finals. Some readers have promised impressions for a post, but I'd love to get more reports from the house (please email me if you're interested). For those outside the city, the event will actually be live on Sirius this year.

Alice Tully Hall:
Les Arts Florissants (F/SE)
Simon Keenlyside recital (Sunday 5pm)

William Christie leads his early music group in two Rameau works -- Anacréon and Pygmalion, while Keenlyside sings an all-Schubert lieder program (with a piano sonata thrown in, played by his accompanist Emanuel Ax).

Bruno Walter Auditorium (Amsterdam Ave. entrance of Lincoln Center's library):
New York Opera Forum Romeo & Juliette (Sunday 1:30pm)
Young singers, concert version.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The week in NY opera (Feb 28-Mar 6) (updated)

UPDATE 3/4: Forgot Lepage's version of the Nightingale at BAM (see below)

(An experiment in schedule-watching begins today. Production review posts are linked when possible, company sites when not. Feedback/suggestions on the format welcome.)

Metropolitan Opera:
Lucia (M/F), Armida (T/SM), Iphigenie (W/SE), Romeo & Juliette (Th)
In, I think, descending order of interest. Romeo has an excellent cast that begs for an equally excellent conductor, but Domingo's name recognition trumps musical considerations. Actually, all the casts are pretty impressive.

Avery Fischer Hall:
OONY L'Africaine (Wednesday 7:30pm)
Russian opera concert (Sunday 5pm)

After Huguenots I don't expect the Meyerbeer to be actually good, but it should be interesting. I really have no idea what to expect from Sunday's event beyond the presence of a lot of Russians, but it does have a nice lineup of performers including (non-Russian, but in town for Boris) Rene Pape.

Carnegie Hall:
Joyce DiDonato recital (Sunday 2pm)
Sign of the times -- DiDonato's name has reached the point where she's now headlining Carnegie's big hall solo. But it'll be hard to top her 2009 show at Zankel.

Brooklyn Academy of Music, Howard Gilman Opera House:
The Nightingale and Other Short Fables (Fr/Su)
Opera by Stravinsky, production by Robert Lepage (the current Met Ring guy), show by the Canadian Opera Company. Two performances left, including one tonight.

Dicapo Opera:
The Saint of Bleeker Street (F/Su)
Never seen this one, actually.

Janine Jansen is playing French violin music at the somewhat overdone downtown hipster venue Le Poisson Rouge on Wednesday.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


As you may or may not have heard elsewhere, soprano Angela Gheorghiu is out for the entire Met run of Romeo & Juliette (beginning tonight). Though her replacement Hei-Kyung Hong shone this season as Micaela, the switch isn't increasing the likelihood I make even the non-Domingo evening.

*     *     *

If you're wondering how Natalie Dessay did in the Lucia after the revival's season premiere: noticeably better. More air in the high notes and a firmer core to the sound, though the additional surface vibrato isn't going to disappear. It won't convince those who didn't like Dessay in the first place, but Monday she had enough vocal freedom to provide the Mad Scene its essential contrast, this time floating the cadenza's delicious reprise of the Act I love duet. She seemed to be more confidently focused for the rest, as well.

The second listen has me more appreciating conductor Patrick Summers' essential contribution to this show's success. There's no nonsense and no great attempt to make the numbers opera what it's not: just life and rhythmic joy in every selection. I can't overemphasize to what excellent spirits these Lucias are bringing the audience. (Calleja is a huge factor, of course.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Levine out... in Boston

After a press release earlier today about his withdrawal from the Boston Symphony's tour dates this month (including at Carnegie), the BSO press office just announced that James Levine will be out as music director there from this September.

When his back issues began to really be a problem again in recent years, it was clear that something had to give. As a New Yorker, I'm glad it's not the Met... Let's just hope he recovers in time for Valkyrie (his first priority, I'm sure) and Trovatore (fingers crossed).

Traviata X-Treme!!!1!

La Traviata -- 1/19/2011
Poplavskaya, Polenzani, Dobber / Noseda

Willy Decker's production of La Traviata, which finished its import run at the Met late in January, is perhaps most sympathetically understood as trolling, a conscious exploitation of a certain audience's boredom with opera and desire for more contemporarily gross sensations. Even its silliest feature -- the attempt to efface the piece's musical heart by gesturally talking over every key passage with distracting stage action -- can be seen as an attempt at the further provocational frisson, one long familiar to European directors and audiences. But let us take the show seriously for a moment.

Violetta, we are told in Decker's Playbill interview, is "the only person in the opera who truly loves" -- and this conceit drives the production's entire one-note character presentation. Not, mind you, that we're shown Violetta herself doing much loving: she spends most of her time staring at an ominously-seated Dr. Grenvil (the angel of death, here costumed as an old-Franz-Liszt lookalike). It's in fact the rest of the cast that's adjusted. Because the schema says they do not love, Decker does his best to dehumanize them altogether -- beginning with Flora and the partygoers, stripped of individuality and even of their sex by short slicked haircuts and masculine black suits. These are the Soulless Bad Guys, and when Alfredo puts away his horrific floral bathrobe to put his suit back on (the production's attempt, pant-zipping and all, to bury "O mio rimorso"), we know Decker's written him off. His father doesn't even get that chance, typecast from the first as a mustache-twirling gangster thug who derisively laughs off (literally) Violetta's revelation of the financial truth. If Germont eventually is allowed some bare semblance of civility with her, it's only to set him up for an even sillier brutality, as he knocks his son down with a blow to the face just before launching into his beautiful paean to Provence and family. (I suppose we might be slightly grateful that Gelb didn't hire somebody who would've had Germont try to hump or defecate on his son at this point.)

But Decker's brutalizing vision aims larger, and returns to Flora and the chorus for the most striking invention of the production. Act II's party scene begins with the crowd having lost not only their individuality of body and dress but their very faces, having gone now to paper caricature masks. The visage, upon close inspection, is meant as a parody of Violetta's (the overt story is of one of the pack putting on a red dress and taunting Alfredo), but the effect -- the felt danger -- of the scene is quite independent of this semi-obscure particular: their attempt, at the end, to put the bull mask on Alfredo while redoubling their abuse enacts the ultimate stage of mindless mob frenzy -- full-out sacrificial slaughter, here both animal (primitive ceremony) and human (lynching).

*     *     *

It is striking, but doubly misguided. In the first place, this frenzied climax takes up only the scene's introduction -- the gypsy/bullfighter entertainment Flora offers her guests. Of course it has nothing to do with either the actual tone and action of that intro nor the charming music Verdi wrote for it (used, as Film Forum-goers may recently have noticed, to serenade Don Fabrizio on his entrance to his summer place in Visconti's film of The Leopard)... but the real offense is that the excitement and frenzy make an anticlimax of the actual climax of the second Act (and the opera itself): Alfredo's public insult in flinging Violetta's money back at her, and the trio (with chorus) that follows. Even ramped up to extreme levels with his pushing her down on the big clock/roulette wheel and stuffing the money into her mouth, this one-man offense barely even registers after the crowd explosion of the intro. Decker has written Violetta out of the climax of her own opera.

The second problem is more general: La Traviata isn't an opera about the power of force, of violence -- it's an opera about the power of gentility. Violetta's problem isn't that she's surrounded by a pack of anonymous and violent frat boys -- her urbane/demimonde set is a picturesque distraction, not a threat. No, her problem is that the part of the world that recognizes love and virtue is too decorous to readmit her after she sold them out (however it may have happened) to live the high life -- and that the claims of this decorous part of the world can be held hand-in-hand with the utmost courtesy and sympathy towards Violetta personally. For she and Germont do have a meeting of minds and hearts -- as all Verdi fathers and daughters do -- but there's nothing the two can alter for themselves. Alfredo's sister still depends for her happiness on the all-too-fastidious opinion of others, people quietly ready to ruin her life with no uncouth blow-up scene of the sort Alfredo himself later delivers (to -- as one may notice -- universal disapproval) but by a simple and socially appropriate withdrawal of approval. And so Violetta takes up unhappiness, though at her death she finally (in the otherwise incomprehensible locket business) gains a sort of readmittance to the decorously ordered world...

Decker's absurd reduction gives no hint of this essential dimension. Like too many modernizing directors, he's in love with at least the theatrical effect of brutality and violence and rewrites things to that end. Why? If -- to return to the beginning -- I believed he were serious in presenting this view of existence, I'd just prefer he stick to more appropriate fare, modernist or proto-modernist operas actually about the force of force (e.g. Wozzeck or Tosca). But his colors are too black: he paints his brutal world and its denizens as grossly bad and empty (he contrives to stage Act III without any of the characters actually talking to each other) without shading, without the irony or even self-lacerating joy we see from true practitioners like Berg. (Germont cartoonishly abusing his son before singing his aria is risible, but unintentionally -- and deliberately self-ignorantly -- so.) Conversely Decker's presentation of love is pure bathos: a disgracefully ugly floral pattern covering bathrobes, ceiling, and sofas in Act II's first scene. So he contrives to knock the thing he spends all effort presenting and to exalt some vague opposite... This makes him, I think, either a troll of those too thrilled by the violent excitement to notice the contradictory subtext, or a panderer to those who see suit-wearing Wall Street yobs as appropriate catch-all villains -- that is, to the current version of the genteel class that Verdi was actually skewering in his opera. I don't know which possibility is more depressing as an explanation for Decker's positive critical reception.

*     *     *

Largely hidden by the production elements -- but accessible whenever one closed one's eyes -- was the extraordinary musical thread. Perhaps it was the absence/perversion of the alternate paths of expression, or perhaps just weeks of concentrated performance before sellout audiences, but by this point in the run Noseda, his three leads, and the wonderful Met Orchestra had reached a unity and sustained focus equal to any Verdi here in memory. It was a truly excellent and moving Traviata... for the ear.

So all kudos to these musicians, but Decker's nonsense is capable of ruining even their best work and that of Luisi, Dessay, Polenzani, and Hvorostovsky next season. I never thought I'd miss the inane dancing cows of Zeffirelli's version, but I do. Give the opera wide berth until a new staging arrives.