Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The week in NY opera (April 29-May 5)

This week brings, among other things, the most interesting Fleming program I can remember.

Metropolitan Opera
Giulio Cesare (T/F), Rigoletto (W), Twilight (Th), Dialogues (SM), Rheingold (SE)
The second-to-last week of the season brings the final Rigoletto and the first Dialogues of the Carmelites -- which always revives well, but has sold much better this season than I recall from the past. Ring Cycle 3 starts Saturday night with Greer Grimsley as Wotan; Deborah Voigt and debuting tenor Lars Cleveman will join him in later installments next week.

Carnegie Hall
Collegiate Chorale Song of Norway (T)
Renee Fleming et al. "Vienna: Window to Modernity" (SE)

The WWII-era Grieg mashup by Hollywood/Broadway operettists Robert Wright and George Forrest plays -- in concert, but with dancing -- tonight. Saturday, Fleming is joined by Jeremy Denk, the Emerson String Quartet, and other string players as they evoke Vienna from the time of late Brahms and Wagner to early Schoenberg to unknowns from the '30s. This rich song repertoire has always suited her well -- better, to my ear, than the cooler Strauss parts that has been much of her operatic diet.

Peter Jay Sharp Theater
Juilliard Opera The Cunning Little Vixen (T/Th)
This actually opened with a sold-out premiere on Sunday, but the new Emma Griffin production of the Janacek opera (in English translation) plays twice more this week.

OT: Carnegie Hall
Richard Goode recital (W)
Beethoven's last three piano sonatas and some of his op. 119 bagatelles.

The birth of... tragedy

Die Walküre - Metropolitan Opera, 4/26/2013
Dalayman, Serafin, O'Neill, Delavan, Blythe, König / Luisi

The plot of Wagner's Ring cycle begins, of course, with Rheingold, but story doesn't enter the picture until the first act of this opera. Perhaps Wagner saw it clearly himself in calling Rheingold the preliminary night, for though he recalled better than most that story first came with divine protagonists, he seemingly found it impossible -- as, in his telling, do they themselves -- to assign his gods and spirits much of the terrible transformative revelation that is story. Instead they get reflection and machination and obscuring transformation -- and it's perhaps productive to consider the first parts of the Ring a demonstration of this as inescapable divine role: on the first night, Alberich thinks he has rather a neat conquest story, but is foiled straightaway by Loge and Wotan's tricks and turns wholly to long plotting himself; Fasolt, too, perhaps senses the glimmer of some half- or misrealized story in his dealings with Freia, but that too is squashed by his murderous brother's claim of sole possession and long immovable brooding (to reappear much later as a speedbump in Siegfried's story). Meanwhile Wotan's adventures seem to happen only offstage and in reflective retelling after the fact; on stage, he is limited to his straight path at every turn.

Only with the human Wälsungs do we see a story proper take shape -- for themselves as well as for us. For while we see an extended reunion/recognition sequence play out between the siblings, they (and thereby we again as well) are called to remember that life is not a row of arbitrary and unbearable fortunes, misfortunes, and obligations but potentially -- that is, while a story goes -- the scene that shows us meaning, identity, and the great union of these that is love. And the lesson spreads, as Brünnhilde moves from the divine position of observation and manipulation to choosing/desiring story's fruits (love -- and though she doesn't yet realize it, transformation and new identity) in Act II before, in Act III, seducing Wotan with the promise of the great future tale of Siegfried's return as the only one who can reach her rock to claim her.

(And so it plays out in the next opera, but Brünnhilde's experience of the discouraging part of human life is only deferred. For after the glorious story of her and Siegfried's reunion and recognition closes, the pair continue to exist... and are sucked into the morass of misfortune, machination and entanglement from which the Wälsungs' desperate story emerged in the first place. Unfortunately that story-deficient concluding installment is blown up way beyond Rheingold to Meyerbeerian size.)

*     *     *

Though less starry than some previous performances, this second-cycle revival was in the fine Met tradition. Things started slowly, for of the first-act players only Martina Serafin -- debuting in the house with these Sieglindes -- carries much of the tragic story. Hans-Peter König sings well but hasn't much menace in either voice or person (the costume still makes him look like Santa) as Hunding, while Simon O'Neill -- healthy at last -- has a nice enough (though a touch monochromatic) bright sound but his phrasing's sort of stiff and in timbre and stage persona he seems too young and wide-eyed for Siegmund. But how much Serafin manages alone! Her voice is so firm and expressive through the middle and so well conveys the flux and import of the story: when she herself narrated "Der Männer Sippe" the drama at long last (Siegmund's earlier long shouts to his father notwithstanding) ignited for the evening's duration. Add to this her similarly expressive dramatic presence and Serafin is the most (only?) exciting new middle-weight soprano here since Anja Harteros vanished from these shores. Serafin's high notes don't quite like to be blasted over full Wagnerian orchestration, but I expect and hope that the more civilized top deployment of the Marschallin will show them happy under less duress.

Act II brought the other principals. I've praised Voigt in this because she knows what points to make as Brünnhilde and the voice still works well enough considering. But it's absurd that she continues to get twice the shows and (via broadcast) some gigantic multiple times the exposure of Katarina Dalayman, who has become really really good in this role with no considerations or allowances needed. This time it was the absolutely easy lyricism of her heart-to-hearts with Wotan that was stunning, and her almost-as-easy transition to the loud stuff. Even without a trill, Dalayman marries as well as anyone and better than most the youthfully impetuous lightness of Wotan's favorite daughter to her grand scale and situation.

Mark Delavan, neglected by the Met in favor of imported mediocrities even after some amazing shows across the plaza (he's actually reprising his biggest NYCO triumph -- Flying Dutchman, which he did there in 2001 -- in Princeton this summer), finally got some spotlight this season with two Ring cycles and a villain role in the Zandonai rarity. He's still, I believe, only a few Wotan cycles in career-wise, but the raw material and overall understanding are there and he can certainly hold his own playing with and off the female stars around him. His domestic byplay with Fricka and (in the happier act) Brünnhilde is funny and actually touching, and he traces a very particular and individual arc with Dalayman in the final scene, with Dalayman not relaxing at the beginning of the farewell, but only -- in ecstatic relief and excitement -- when he finally gets around to mentioning the bridal fire.

Fricka sits too high for Stephanie Blythe to really use her gooseflesh notes, but she does well in the part anyway. Fabio Luisi conducts with more fire than I recall from previous years, but it's a texturally and dramatically lighter account and I'd still rather have had Levine or Gatti at the helm. The Lepage production... well, it's a revival, so we don't have to think about it -- and idea-free as it was all along, the production is significantly more enjoyable as uncontemplated wallpaper.

Serafin, Dalayman, and Delavan carried the show, and though the first returns for one last round next Monday, I'm not sure I can recommend it without the other two. I'll be at Rosenkavalier though.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The week in NY opera (April 22-28)

Somehow it's Sweden week...

Metropolitan Opera
Giulio Cesare (M/SM), Twilight (T), Rigoletto (W/SE), Rheingold (Th), Valkyrie (F)
Ring Cycle 1 closes Tuesday with its only non-matinee performance before Cycle 2 (the one with Katarina Dalayman) has its first two installments.

City Center
NYCO La Périchole (T/Th/SE)
City Opera-in-exile wraps its Offenbach run and its season.

Carnegie Hall
Nathan Gunn recital (M)
Oratorio Society of NY War Requiem (M)
Misoon Ghim recital (M)
NY Philharmonic concert (F)

Monday: Gunn's recital at Zankel, postponed from February, is all in English. Meanwhile Britten's big piece is performed on the big stage while the Korea Music Foundation presents mezzo Ghim (who's sung in Korea and with regional companies here) at Weill.
On Friday, Renee Fleming and the local band premiere (in between some warhorses) Swedish composer Anders Hillborg's song cycle to Mark Strand poems.

Alice Tully Hall
Swedish Chamber Orchestra concert (Th)
A Swedish dramatic soprano not in this season's Ring performances -- Nina Stemme -- sings a bunch of orchestral songs between some instrumental fare.

Friday, April 19, 2013

In darkest Vegas

Rigoletto - Metropolitan Opera, 4/13/2013
Gagnidze, Oropesa, Grigolo, Iori, Herrera / Armiliato

Ever seen someone get lost on stage on the way to his curtain call? I hadn't, but tenor Vittorio Grigolo took a wrong turn Saturday evening and ended up trapped behind the car, house left. He backtracked and made it to the front, but then, after the bow, instead of going to his designated lineup spot house right he ran all the way right off the stage. This made for an amusing "wasn't he supposed to be there?" moment for soprano Lisette Oropesa after her bow...

Through this hilarity, Grigolo's strongest trait -- his basic eagerness -- was evident. In the moment, he's less the bizarrely overhyped Domingo protege and more a young man thrilled by the success of the day. And in fact he doesn't do badly in this show: he's gone from a revival-wrecking hyperactive squirrel (in his 2010 debut Boheme) to a reasonably enjoyable hyperactive puppy.

The Duke requires less ensemble spirit than Rodolfo, of course -- next season's Boheme moviecast lineup remains inexplicable. But after a nervous and rhythmically overeager "Questa o quella", Grigolo actually delivered his best work in the next scene's duet with Gilda, honestly ardent and working with his partner instead of always just reaching for quick effect. His subsequent solos and part in the great last-act quartet were enjoyable enough, but more for his healthy sound than any particular musical shaping or insight (he still lacks the feel for the underlying movement-in-time of Verdi's lines and phrases). He doesn't much illuminate the show, but he doesn't detract from it either.

The sense of the action is left, as usual, to the father and daughter. As Gilda 2005 Met Council winner Lisette Oropesa gets her first romantic-era lead in the house, after earlier doses of Gluck and Mozart (as well as a bunch of Rhinemaiden appearances and the like). Her success has several parts, but the most important is probably the one where Diana Damrau totally whiffed: Oropesa offers the Gilda the story needs to make sense. Damrau gave another remix of her characteristic Gilda -- too clever by half, manipulative, and dismissive of Rigoletto's care. (This time we saw more frustration than wit, and a strange channeling of Mary Katherine Gallagher.) This is certainly one way Gilda might turn out, but it's the least interesting version of her: without love and virtue in the picture, only lusts and headlong impulses, why object to the Duke's court at all? Oropesa's Gilda is the necessary antithesis -- the "child of virtue", as Victor Hugo put it in explaining his original play -- and a very human one. Her Gilda is sympathetic and empathetic and inspires the best in her father and the Duke, but feels the pains of the world no less, whether moved by her father in their duet, or visibly shocked and traumatized (in an echo of her great Lucia) in the middle act, or just wholly deflated by disillusionment by the end of the quartet (thereby making unusual musical-dramatic sense of the choice to end without the standard interpolated climactic high note). But even in the extremity of these latter acts Oropesa's Gilda has that other, rarer quality of youth that Damrau's boundary-testing teenager omits: she still believes in virtue and goodness and -- even more rare -- continues to counsel and act on these qualities in the face of their opposites.

Oropesa also has, perhaps more noticably for some, a pure light lyric soprano that is as balanced and classically expressive as recent decades have seen. The sound still isn't big (not even at the top -- she's not a lyric coloratura with big top yelps), but it carries properly throughout without apparent limitations on color or dynamic variation. And the appeal is distinctive: yes, charming chirpers are always with us, but rarely married to Oropesa's expressive timbre and seriousness of characterization and purpose. Her "Caro nome", finished quietly with an apparently infinite trill a la Erna Berger, was the night's show-stopping highlight.

George Gagnidze, this run's Rigoletto, also lacks a bit of sheer sonic force -- his instrument is pointed for high climaxes, not full throughout in the classic "Verdi baritone" style of his predecessor Zeljko Lucic. Unfortunately, while Gilda's essential bits are done with a cooperative or silent orchestra, her father's big solo moments come quite deliberately over a greater roar from the pit, and his inability to master that with his own roar is a letdown. Still, he at least puts the character reasonably well forward, being less afraid than his predecessor to appear the schlub. However, I hope someone told him not to keep shifting his weight in the last scene (or better yet to sit/kneel on the ground), because bouncing the trunk of a car up and down while talking to his dying daughter therein looks ridiculous.

Enrico Giuseppe Iori, making his Met debut, played a more thuggish Sparafucile than has been the norm here of late; his sound was full enough though lacking the character of predecessor Stefan Kocan. Nancy Fabiola Herrera did her usual solid work as his sister. In the pit Marco Armiliato was lively and exciting as well as expectedly solid and sympathetic.

It's difficult to overstate how much the whole Met audience -- from longtime patrons to opera newbies -- seems to like this new production. (Now that the awful "Arab curse" nonsense has been scrubbed from the titles, there's not much reason not to.) Perhaps Gelb will learn the lesson that, his own characteristic production tastes aside, representational maximalism is what sells at the Met... but perhaps not.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Save yourself

If you're considering going to Les Arts Florissants' current Brooklyn run of the Charpentier rarity David et Jonathas, don't. It's by far the worst show of theirs I've seen, a huge step down from recent efforts in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Andreas Homoki's production takes a piece of somewhat elusive appeal in the first place and infantilizes it into wholesale nonsense: even the part that should go hand-in-glove with the company's aesthetic -- the pastoral celebration that kicks off the action -- is muddled into ineffectiveness. As for loyalty, duty, envy, nation vs. individual attachment, or whatnot... Homoki has no eye for any of it, preferring to focus exclusively on his invented weepy-domestic backstory and his endlessly repeated Death Star trash compactor set effect. (It's less interesting than it sounds.)

The orchestra plays as well as usual for William Christie, but there's a lot less vocal interest than one expects from his company. Don't waste an evening with this flop.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The week in NY opera (April 15-21)

Metropolitan Opera
Rigoletto (T/SE), Giulio Cesare (F), Siegfried (SM)
Literally only one show before the weekend, but it's good. Full post on Rigoletto today or tomorrow.

City Center
NYCO Moses in Egypt (T/Th/SE)
NYCO La Périchole (Sunday 1:30pm)

City Opera-in-exile finishes its run of the Rossini rarity and premieres its new Christopher Alden production of an Offenbach operetta.

Brooklyn Academy of Music
Les Arts Florissants David et Jonathas (W/Th/SE/SuM)
Bill Christie's company offers baroque opera again, this time by Charpentier.

OT: Carnegie Hall
Maurizio Pollini recital (Sunday 3pm)
Chopin and Debussy. Also, Thielemann and Dresden play two concerts during the week.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The week in NY opera (April 8-14)

A nasty cold will keep me from tonight's OONY show, alas.

Metropolitan Opera
Giulio Cesare (T/F), Valkyrie (SM), Rigoletto (SE)
Cesare and the matinee Ring cycle continue, while Rigoletto returns with a wholly new cast (George Gagnidze, Lisette Oropesa, and Vittorio Grigolo).

Avery Fisher Hall
OONY I Lombardi (M)
Yet another 2007 Met Council Finals reunion, with Angela Meade and Michael Fabiano headlining this early Verdi opera-in-concert.

City Center
NYCO Moses in Egypt (SuM)
City Opera-in-exile opens its weeklong run of this Rossini rarity with a Sunday matinee in midtown.

Carnegie Hall
Isabel Leonard recital (T)
Spanish and American songs by the young American mezzo.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The week in NY opera (April 1-7)

Metropolitan Opera
Faust (T/F), Traviata (W/SE), Giulio Cesare (Th), Rheingold (SM)
So, new production of Handel's Caesar&Cleopatra opera. On the one hand: David McVicar (Trovatore, Maria Stuarda). On the other hand: David Daniels is about the worst possible casting for the title part even among countertenors, with a voice way too high for all Senesino parts including this one even in better days. Also, no Stephanie Blythe.
The matinee Ring starts this week. Unlike the others, it's just regularly -- not embarrassingly -- undersold.

Carnegie Hall
Boston Symphony Wagner excerpts (F)
Paul Appleby recital (F)
Elina Garanca recital (SE)

The 2009 Met Council winner covers four languages at Weill the day before the studied mezzo star sticks to German Romantic in the big hall. Meanwhile, the BSO concert with Michelle DeYoung wouldn't be so notable if its conductor hadn't been substantially responsible for maybe the greatest Parsifal success, well, ever.

OT: Carnegie Hall
Boston Symphony Mahler #3 (Th)
Daniele Gatti tries his hand at Mahler's most expansive symphony the night before the aforementioned BSO Wagner concert.

UPDATE (4/4): HERE Arts Center
Smashed (T/F/SE)
Now fully funded, OOT's new opera premieres this week in Soho.