Monday, September 29, 2014

High life

Le Nozze di Figaro - Metropolitan Opera, 9/22/2014
Abdrazakov, Petersen, Majeski, Leonard, Mattei / Levine

After a less than memorable closing run two seasons ago for Jonathan Miller's production of Figaro (which served the house well long after the director banished himself in a snit about Bartoli's airing of alternate arias), the Met opened 2014-15 with another Englishman's production. Richard Eyre's attempt isn't much better or worse than his predecessor's. It will probably serve the house in much the same way through casts both better and worse than this one.

The physical production won't surprise anyone who's seen Eyre's other Met efforts: the rotating unit set recalls the first act of his Carmen, while the last act's tree/structure juxtaposition was already seen in his Werther. Probably there's too much repeating latticework as the set's top part, which suggests a bit too much the overly abstracted Spain of Hytner's Don Carlo. But it's decent enough. (And it sounds like the Lincoln Center renovation finally got around to de-squeaking the turntable.)

Eyre has, I suppose unsurprisingly, moved the figures forward to the first part of the last century, so that they're recognizably not from some legendary Spain or the French revolution, but from the familiar modern myths of Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs, Gosford Park, etc. In itself this is no particular innovation, but it does allow for the show's one interesting juxtaposition: in one of the scenes in the staged overture, we see the well-pressed order of the morning servants' assembly interrupted as Barbarina rushes in after her tryst with the Count. Here for once we see not just the familiar social-emotional disorder of Mozart, Beaumarchais, and da Ponte's creation, but the fragile orderliness in which it was born. The desire enacted and reflected in the story disrupts the peace not only of each person and the pre-Revolutionary world as a whole, but also of the household, that intermediate-scale space in which most of life is lived... and it's nice to see a tableau showing that perspective before we delve into the familiar close intimacy of the opera itself.

The musical side, too, is more impressive in its ensemble bits. But that, I think, is less by design than the vagaries of casting. Neither Ildar Abdrakazov (previously impressive as Prince Igor, Don Giovanni, the Hoffmann villains, and Mephistopheles) nor Marlis Petersen (a notable Lulu and Ophelia) is particularly flattered by the particular demands of Figaro/Susanna, so that each was decent enough but a bit colorless. Isabel Leonard was better -- admirably precise and lively -- as Cherubino, but doesn't quite achieve the level of vocal (most recently, Joyce DiDonato) or physical (Kate Lindsey) characterization needed to steal the show in this part. The Bartolo and Marcellina -- John Del Carlo and Susanne Mentzer (who was the original Cherubino of the previous production) -- showed a shocking degree of age, sad to those of us who recall their many good Met evenings not too long past.

And so, as happens at times, it's not until the Count and Countess appear that the emotional temperature of the evening rises. Perhaps the Met, after that unforgettable Amfortas, finally realizes what it has in Peter Mattei? The Swedish baritone is unequivocally the star of not only the upcoming Don Giovanni revival (which, as I've said from his very first show here, he should get every single season) but of this new Figaro -- both vain and wounded, commanding and self-pitying, heartless, jealous, and loving... and sounding terrific throughout. His foil is debuting American soprano Amanda Majeski, moved to the first cast from the second after the cancellation of the frankly bizarre original-choice Countess, Marina Poplavskaya (yes, she and Mattei made an amazing conflagration together in Onegin, but...). Majeski's not as ideal a fit for Mozart as Mattei -- the voice and vibrato seem to demand a larger scale -- but she's never less than interesting, and is potentially a wondrous find for the house going forward. It's not quite as titanic, but Majeski's vibrato-borne sound recalls that of another Illinois soprano, who's now conquering San Francisco with her Norma: it's an instrument that should open out naturally in heavier parts, and the fact that Majeski has mastered it even to navigating the long delicate lines of Porgi amor bodes well for her future here. It wouldn't surprise me at all if she's the next American superstar... but forget that, I'd just like to hear her Eva this December.

Did I go through the entire review without mentioning James Levine? With any luck, Met audiences can go back to taking his natural, singer-friendly, eloquent pit work for granted.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 2014-15 season, at its start

This is a revision of the original preview post from February. Changes are in bold and discussed [in brackets].

Figaro (new Richard Eyre production)
Abdrazakov, Majeski, Petersen, Leonard, Mattei / Levine (September-October)
Schrott, Willis-Sørensen, de Niese, Malfi, Kwiecien / de Waart (December)
Levine opens the season, as he should, with an excellent male cast and a somewhat odd but not impossible female cast for this new Figaro. As for the second bunch, I've knocked Erwin Schrott's Figaro in the past, and still have little hope for dramatic parts, but his excellence in comedy since then offers hope. Edo de Waart conducted some of the best Figaro performances that the last Met production had.
[A bit of shuffling makes for two promising Americans as the Countess: Amanda Majeski, a real find for the roster, sings this month while 2010 Met Council winner Rachel Willis-Sørensen makes her debut in the second run.]

La Boheme
Scherbachenko, Papatanasiu, Hymel, Kelsey, Lavrov, Soar, Maxwell / Frizza (September-early October)
Opolais, Papatanasiu/Phillips, Vargas, Salsi, Arduini, Rose, Del Carlo / Frizza (November/early December)
Gheorghiu, Phillips, Vargas, Salsi, Arduini, Rose, Del Carlo / Frizza (December 10/13)
Opolais, Yoncheva, Borras, Kwiecien, Arduini, Soar, Del Carlo / Frizza (January)
Wait... Gheorghiu is back!? (I still suspect her Mimi will be too much Musetta, but...)
[January's tenor, originally TBA, is now Jean-François Borras who apparently subbed for Kaufmann in Werther this spring.]

Lucic, Netrebko, Calleja, Pape / Luisi (September-October)
Wait... Netrebko is singing Lady Macbeth!? Nice cast the rest of the way around.

Rachvelishvili, Antonenko, Hartig, Cavalletti / Heras-Casado (September-early November)
Garanca, Alagna, Pérez, Bretz / Langrée (February)
Garanca, Kaufmann, Pérez, Bretz / Langrée (March)
Rachvelishvili has the beefy Aleksandrs Antonenko opposite her this time, while Garanca gets the tenor star power. Hei-Kyung Hong spells both primary Micaelas (Anita Hartig and 2012 Tucker winner Ailyn Pérez) for a performance each.

Magic Flute (not the kids' version)
Yende, Durlovski, Spence, Werba, McKinny, Pape / Fischer (October)
Persson, Lewek, Spence, Werba, McKinny, Kehrer / Fischer (October-November)
2013 emergency debutant Pretty Yende and 2009 definitive Sophie Miah Persson split this return of the Magic Flute into adult-show circulation. [Tobias Kehrer debuts as Sarastro in place of Franz-Josef Selig.]

Death of Klinghoffer (new Tom Morris production)
Martens, Panikkar, Szot, Opie, Allicock, Green / Robertson (October-November)
After selling child sex (in Robertson's last show in the pit), surely the scapegoating murder of an American Jew won't be a big deal for the Met.

Monastyrska, Borodina, Giordani, Lucic, Belosselskiy, Howard / Armiliato (October-November)
Wilson, Urmana, Giordani, Dobber, Belosselskiy, Howard / Armiliato (December-January)
Dyka, Urmana, Berti, Lucic, Kocán, Orlov / Domingo (April)
I mean, it's interesting to see that Urmana is singing Amneris now, but all of these casts are irritatingly flawed. 2006 Met Council winner Marjorie Owens is, incidentally, doing one performance (January 2) in place of 2000 winner Latonia Moore. [Well, now it's 2004 finalist Tamara Wilson doing those shows instead of Moore. This might be interesting -- I assume since she's neither famous nor skinny nor black that Wilson was hired because she can actually sing the part.]

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Westbroek, Jovanovich, Very, Kotscherga / Conlon (November)
Remember when Graham Vick shows were a thing? Actually, this should be an interesting revival.

Barber of Seville
Maltman, Leonard, Brownlee, Muraro, Burchuladze / Mariotti (November-December)
I'm not sure Christopher Maltman is much more of a natural Figaro than Peter Mattei was, but at least they aren't wasting Mattei. Leonard and Brownlee make for a very nice young lead couple though.

Morris, Dasch, Botha, Appleby, Cargill, Kränzle, König, Rose / Levine (December)
Volle, Dasch, Botha, Appleby, Cargill, Kränzle, König, Rose / Levine (December 9, 13)
[Perhaps the most important cast alteration was made without mention on the cast change page: in place of Johan Reuter (Barak in last season's FroSch revival), we get two shows of Michael Volle (Mandryka in the recent Arabella) and five with the man who should have been headlining in the first place... James Morris. At 67, unless Gelb brings back the old Valkyrie set for a much-deserved gala, this will surely be the great Wagnerian's last big run. A success as profound and definitive as his last Valkyries here in 2009 may be too much to expect, but the event is too much to miss even if Annette Dasch does unfortunately sing.]
On the one hand, Levine conducting Meistersinger is self-recommending. On the other, the one and only run of Annette Dasch at the Met showed her unfortunate inability to sing in tune. Somehow, even after her 2012 scheduled Donna Elviras were taken over late by Ellie Dehn, her agent has gotten her this prime return booking. What on earth? There are many, many excellent German lyric/jugendlich-dramatisch sopranos.
Perhaps as sad is the lack of the old star power that carried these shows. Not just Mattila (who opened this production) or James Morris (but seriously, where's James Morris?) but the greatest David I've heard live or on record -- Matthew Polenzani -- is missing this time.

La Traviata
Rebeka, Costello, Tézier / Armiliato (December)
Rebeka, Demuro, Tézier / Armiliato (December-January)
Poplavskaya, Demuro, Tézier / Armiliato (January)
As hard as the Met might try to top it, this is still its worst, most bathetic production. Don't see the show until there's a new one.
[Looks like Poplavskaya took a few of these shows to make up for dropping out of Figaro.]

Hansel and Gretel (childrens' version in English)
Kurzak, Rice, Martens, Brubaker, Croft / Davis (December-January)
Stober, Rice, Martens, Brubaker, Croft / Davis (January)
I still have never gotten around to seeing this. Sorry.
[Christine Schäfer is out, replaced by Aleksandra Kurzak, Heidi Stober, and (for the 1/8 performance) Andriana Chuchman.]

The Merry Widow (new Susan Stroman production)
Fleming, O'Hara, Gunn, Shrader, Allen / Davis (New Year's Eve through January)
Fleming, O'Hara, Gunn, Shrader, Allen / Nadler (January)
Graham, de Niese, Gilfry, Costello, Opie / Luisi (April)
Yup, that's Broadway's Kelli O'Hara making her Met debut as Valencienne for the winter run of this operetta. Given that importing Paulo Szot from Broadway has worked a lot better for Gelb than importing directors and librettists therefrom, I suppose I should be worrying about Stroman's ability to adapt Julian Crouch's wild visual ideas. Her staging couldn't possibly be worse than the last Merry Widow here, though.
[The January TBA conductor turned out to be pit vet Paul Nadler.]

Tales of Hoffmann
Grigolo, Morley, Gerzmava, Rice, Lindsey, Hampson / Abel (January-February 5)
Polenzani, Luna, Phillips, Maximova, Deschayes, Naouri / Levine (February 28-March)
[Almost as disappointing as the Meistersinger change was exciting: Hibla Gerzmava's attempt to do all the heroines, probably the main reason to see this initial cast, is now off. She's back to just singing Antonia/Stella, with Erin Morley and Christine Rice filling the higher and lower parts.]
The Met is making a huge bet on as-yet-unimpressive/unproven media hype beneficiary Vittorio Griogolo, though it's obviously no sure thing he's still singing this when this surprisingly good Bart Sher show returns. He gets the more interesting supporting cast, with Hibla Gerzmava -- who sang just Antonia/Stella in 2010, now getting free reign to try the other two heroines as well, Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse, and Thomas Hampson as the villains. Matthew Polenzani gets Levine in the pit but a less well-defined supporting group (and no moviecast).

Iolanta / Bluebeard's Castle (new Mariusz Trelinski productions)
Netrebko, Beczala, Markov, Azizov, Tanovitski; Michael, Petrenko / Gergiev (January-February)
Musically, a great double bill. Production and performance... may turn out to have great moments, but I think the Bartok in particular is betrayed by externalizing the action.

Don Giovanni
Mattei, Pisaroni, van den Heever, Bell, Lindsey, Korchak, Plachetka, Morris / Gilbert (February-March)
As I've said, the Met should have Mattei do Don Giovanni every season... perhaps now in rotation with Onegin. This time Alan Gilbert strolls across Lincoln Center Plaza to conduct, perhaps bringing the fire that too many of his early-music focused predecessors have lacked.

La Donna del Lago (new Paul Curran production)
DiDonato, Barcellona, Flórez, Osborn, Gradus / Mariotti (February-March)
Great job by DiDonato getting this Rossini opera finally onto the stage of the Met.

Damrau, Grigolo, Braun, Testé / Villaume (March)
Damrau as the fragile, indefatigably-charming Manon? I really don't see it, not even in this modernist-izing production.

Lucia di Lammermoor
Shagimuratova, Calleja, Capitanucci, Miles / Benini (March-April)
Calleja's last (2011) run as Edgardo was the bel canto tenor performance of a generation. Go. See. This.

Meade, Meli, Domingo, Belosselskiy / Levine (March-April)
James Levine conducts most of the revival of this wonderful, under-appreciated opera that gave Angela Meade her debut. I suppose this is being revived for Domingo to attempt the baritone part of Charles V, but the success will largely depend on tenor Francesco's Meli's ability to survive the punishing title part.

Don Carlo
Frittoli, Gubanova, Lee, Keenlyside, Furlanetto, Morris / Nézet-Séguin (March 30-April)
Frittoli, Krasteva, Lee, Keenlyside, Furlanetto, Morris / Nézet-Séguin (April)
Rumor had it that this was going to be the French version this time, but no such thing is indicated. In any case, the cast and conductor are pretty great, even if the old production will still be missed. Though lead Yonghoon Lee is about the best spinto tenor going, it's nice to see Ricardo Tamura (who sang a Cavaradossi here last year) getting another Met performance.

Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci (new David McVicar productions)
Westbroek, Álvarez, Lucic; Racette, Álvarez, Gagnidze, Meachem / Luisi (April-May)
Marcelo Alvarez had his acting seriousness turned against him by David Alden's dumb-as-dirt Ballo a season ago, so it's nice that he'll get to work with the brilliant McVicar in this new show.

Un Ballo in Maschera
Radvanovsky, Stober, Zajick, Beczala, Hvorostovsky / Levine (April-May)
No Yonghoon Lee (despite rumor) in a match of vocal-moral force vs force, but Beczala's easy charm and Levine's conducting may make a musical whole out of what, in its original run with Alvarez and Luisi, was less than the sum of its parts. (But oh what parts Radvanovsky and Blythe provided even then!)

The Rake's Progress
Claire, Blythe, Appleby, Finley, Sherratt / Levine (May)
Levine gets a brief revival of another 20th century classic.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Some other show

Monday, facing out from the Met Plaza...

These protesters were probably right, but they were also a month too early.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Day one

Although I've been snarky about the latest news, the announcement last month that the labor talks threatening to derail the season had successfully concluded pleased me rather more than I'd expected.

It should not, perhaps, be news that an institution is determined to function, that it's set on carrying out its mission despite the human failings of its management, employees, performers, audience, supporters, and critics - Ich selber exkludier' mir net! - but given the endless parade of counterexamples that now greets the eye - not least in the opera-free zone across the plaza - it apparently now is. And so - at least before the show! - I am thoroughly glad to be taking my small part in the annual rite of this persistently integral company.

Tomorrow, a report and a season preview repost incorporating cast changes.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Finally! Now people working in high paying jobs can score these tickets!"

What a friend (in a high paying job) said upon seeing this story on the death of the rush ticket line. (Replacement: more lotteries.)

There has, in fact, been an issue over the last few years with some professional line-sitters abusing the system for profit. But this seems rather ill-judged even if it does kill that business.