Friday, June 07, 2019

Lepage follies

Well, I certainly wasn't expecting this email:
We’re writing to inform you, as a ticket buyer to Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, of an important change. The performances of La Damnation de Faust on January 25 and 29, and February 1 and 8, 2020, will be converted into concert presentations, similar to the Met’s Verdi Requiem performances in the 2017–18 season. Performances on February 4, 12, and 15, 2020, have been cancelled.

The decision to present La Damnation de Faust in its more usual concert version is driven by the unanticipated technical demands of reviving the Met’s staged production, impossible to accommodate within the company’s production schedule. The cast, including mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, bass Ildar Abdrazakov, and tenors Bryan Hymel (January 25, 29) and Michael Spyres (February 1, 8) sharing the title role, remains unchanged. Edward Gardner is the conductor.
The new event listing seems to confirm.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The death of...

Dialogues des Carmélites - Metropolitan Opera, 5/3 and 5/8/2019
Leonard, Mattila, Pieczonka, Cargill, Morley, Portillo / Nézet-Séguin

I expected this Dialogues revival - as those of previous seasons - to be effective and moving. What I did not expect, despite an outside hope therefor, was that it would contain within the first act's limited span one more great Mattila triumph, the first since 2012 and one of an all-too-few to be moviecast. If this turns out to be her send-off (which, at 58, need not necessarily be the case), it's a great one.

Felicity Palmer (whose Waltraute I've missed in Met Rings since) was a heck of a singing actress, but in the last two revivals she portrayed a prioress who dies. With Mattila, Madame de Croissy's death itself - enormous and terrible, like the death of Christoph Detlev Brigge in Rilke's prose book - is the main character of the opera's first part. That's as you'd expect upon discovering that this opera could fit such a thing, as Mattila's decade-and-a-half of providing the most significant element in each Met season was built on loading the "terror" side of the Aristotelian schema markedly higher than even this most emotionally extreme art form is accustomed. And amidst this awful struggle - with her wracked body, with impossible responsibilities, with death itself - the loving directness of de Croissy's last advice to Blanche arrives in even more touching relief.

The excellence of Isabel Leonard - Blanche here as she was in 2013 - not only holds the overall show together but provides Mattila the foil her first secondary-role run here (Kostelnicka in 2016's Jenufa opposite the eminently forgettable Oksana Dyka) fatally lacked. The same inner stillness and that made Leonard a near-ideal Melisande earlier in the season also serves her here, if differently: Blanche wants to and should be in that state - one too evidently fit for worry and risk won't suit - but too often can't.

It's not clear whether it was deliberate or fortuitous of Adrianne Pieczonka to portray Madame Lidoine in a manner entirely distinct from the character's predecessor: all motherly love, calm, and composure amidst the storms of trouble. In any case, it works brilliantly - and Karen Cargill, who like Erin Morley (Constance, again reprising her 2013 part) is much more impressive than she was in the Ring, provides a third distinct elder figure with her hardheaded and dogged Mother Marie.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, as ever, conducts impressively in the direct manner.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

The debut

Rigoletto - Metropolitan Opera, 4/26 and 5/1/2019
Gagnidze, Feola, Polenzani, Ivashchenko / Luisotti

The house debut of 32-year-old Italian soprano Rosa Feola as Gilda was extraordinary enough that I went back between Ring installments to see if I hadn't imagined it. I found a second night even better than the first.

Although Feola (who was runner-up to Sonya Yoncheva at the 2010 Operalia competition) certainly has the notes and technique for the lyric-coloratura parts that are her current career (her Caro nome was a marvel), neither her voice nor her person present what you'd expect therein. Instead of the classic bright, chirpy sound Feola offers a darker, more emotionally charged timbre. And though she can (unlike, say, Diana Damrau) do ingenuous charm, neither that nor coquettish sex-appeal define her focused, presence. The overall impression was of nothing so much as an Italian Dorothea Röschmann with an integrated top extension - someone I'm eager to hear again, in the more serious of the -inas and -ettas though even these likely won't let her display all her powers. (The tragic weight her Gilda took on herself with full awareness before entering Sparafucile's place itself nearly broke the frame of the role.)

Incidentally: the contrast with the other notable female debut of the season - Aida Garifullina, who sang Zerlina in the first of two Don Giovanni casts - is striking. With a glorious silver-bell tone on an outsized scale perfectly suited to this big house and an effective, straightforward charm, Garifullina (who won the 2013 Operalia competition) is the classic soubrette starlet turned up to 11, singing a very similar range of parts to Feola's with an entirely different (but ever-appealing) spirit. Let's hope that she doesn't go off the rails and massacre bel canto for a decade before reinventing herself as a heavier-role singer as the last Russian soprano with this sort of star power did.

The other singers were, as expected, a pleasure - George Gagnidze neither glamorous nor titanic but, as usual, catching the right spirit and Dimitry Ivashchenko a nicely satisfying Sparafucile - with only newcomer Ramona Zaharia's Maddalena perhaps not fitting her part. Matthew Polenzani, too nice to be any kind of malicious Duke, sang well enough (particularly on the second night) for us to accept his caught-up-in-the-lifestyle autocrat at face value.

*     *     *

It wasn't just Polenzani's better form or even the cast's cleanup of stage business that wasn't quite in synch at the first performance that made for the more thrilling followup, but conductor Nicola Luisotti perhaps finally letting Verdi be Verdi. The supreme Puccini conductor of our era - despite a much worse cast, his guidance made the 2010 Fanciulla more of an event than the vocally thrilling one we got this fall - Luisotti nevertheless was the weak link in two previous Verdi shows this season. In the fall and winter Aidas (which were, admittedly, compromised by cast issues) and the spring Traviata (which wasn't the triumph that Anita Hartig's heartbreaking performance deserved), it seemed that he was intent on shaping Verdi's music as he would Puccini's - aiming to maximize phrase and line effectiveness without regard for the underlying beat. This just doesn't work: the alternately melancholy and ecstatic pleasure in the ordered passage of time is the rock on which not just Verdi but the cantabile-cabaletta form of all bel canto opera is built. One can't lose touch with that pleasure - even when it's not foregrounded - for even a moment without making a hash of the aesthetic whole.

Whether because of this opera's more headlong nature or just finding his way to Verdi's style after many performances, Luisotti here more or less restricted his micro-temporal tampering to some bizarre hitches in a single slow part. And by the second night he was not merely setting good starting tempi and getting out of the way but actively working with the underlying time-flow to impressive effect. With luck this development will carry over to future runs of other Verdi works.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Robbing the cradle

Siegfried - Metropolitan Opera, 4/13/2019
Vinke, Goerke, Volle, Siegel, Morley, Cargill, Koniecszny, Belosselskiy / Jordan

As astounding and enjoyable was Stefan Vinke's vocal endurance and forcefulness in the title role in this house debut last month, so disappointing was the one-note personal characterization that accompanied it. The result was a barn-burner of an aural show that undoubtedly thrilled the general audience but frustrated me as the vocal failures of past revivals had not.

A decade ago, in praise of Christian Franz - whose physical assumption was everything that Vinke's was not - I noted that his Siegfried "didn't, as is sometimes the case, seem the villain of the piece". And with this revival we saw how easy it takes to make Siegfried unsympathetic (one opera ahead of when he does, under mind-affecting magic, in fact act the bad guy). Whether it was the revival stage directors (J. Knighten Smith for the overall Ring, Stephen Pickover for this installment, with Paula Suozzi and Paula Williams assisting) or Vinke's choice or even the nerves of his big debut, this performance maximized Siegfried's buffoonery and minimized his introspection and awakening of self: instead of the archetypal youth maturing to heroism and first love, we got an unchanging brat alternately mugging for approval (entirely inconsistent with his lack of fear and solitary upbringing, one might notice!) and hamhandedly - and without recognition or understanding - forcing his way past everything on stage. With incipient growth and self-understanding no longer established in Act II (where Vinke understandably but unfortunately decided to conserve voice) his union with Brünnhilde in the last act became very odd indeed. (As with other too-cleverly cynical takes, one can argue for the psychological truth of these reductions but they make the story less significant.)

Not that we should short the vocal accomplishment. Vinke's basic sound here isn't the most best I've heard in brief stand-alone doses: though pleasant, there's a too-covered quality that comes out in the lyric bits. But for a small trade (much smaller than what many predecessors have given up just to get through the thing) Vinke gave us a seemingly limitless heldentenor outpouring that sailed through the Forging of Act I and outshouted Goerke's fresh voice in Act III. If only the quality of sound had been matched by a similar quality of sense!

Perhaps Andreas Schager - who made a remarkable NYC debut four years ago as Apollo alongside the Leukippos of this Ring's Loge (Norbert Ernst) - will do better tonight.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sundays

Next season at the Met brings a handful of new shows and, more notably, a new schedule point: Sunday afternoon. So far Sunday perfomances look like rescheduled Mondays, and start-of-the-week gaps (both Monday and, at times, Tuesday) are interspersed through the year.

As usual, I've left some one-show-only combinations out below.

Porgy and Bess (new James Robinson production)
Owens, Blue, Schultz, Moore, Ballentine, Walker, Green / Robertson (opening night to October)
Owens, Blue, Brugger, Moore, Ballentine, Walker, Singletary / Robertson (October, January)
Owens, Blue, Schultz, Moore, Ballentine, Walker, Singletary / Robertson (Jan 28, Feb 1)
Like many Met premieres of the Gelb era, this show - directed by newcomer (and Opera Theatre of St. Louis Artistic Director) James Robinson with Bart Sher's usual set and costume designers - has already run at ENO and in Amsterdam. Still, it's the first Porgy and Bess at the Met in ages (even City Opera's latest performance was almost two decades ago) and the first opening night of real note in a while.

Manon
Oropesa, Fabiano, Bosi, Ruciński, Youn / Benini (September-October)
For the first time I can remember, both Massenet's Manon and Puccini's own adaptation of the Prevost novel - Manon Lescaut - appear in the same season. Both productions are recent-ish failures, but it's possible that the visual delicacy erased by Laurent Pelly can be offset by charm and delicatezza in the lead - qualities also missing in this staging's previous incarnations. Lisette Oropesa has had that even from her 2005 Met Council Finals win... Between this and Traviata, are we fortunate enough to see the house valuing a different sort of singer?

Macbeth
Domingo, Netrebko, Polenzani, Abdrazakov / Armiliato (September-October)
Lučić, Netrebko, Polenzani, Abdrazakov / Armiliato (October)
As much as Anna Netrebko overpowered the lighter roles she sang for too much of the last two decades, she still had not quite the weight for Lady Macbeth in 2014 (rapturous notices notwithstanding). Still, the rest of the cast(s) is excellent and Adrian Noble's production is one of the better ones. Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi, who seems to specialize in these really big roles, has a one-off debut on October 1.

Turandot
Goerke, Buratto, Aronica, Morris / Nézet-Séguin (October)
Goerke, Buratto, Aronica, Morris / Armiliato (October)
Stemme, Gerzmava, Berti, Testé / Rizzi (April)
Zeffirelli's most over-the-top show gets some starry treatment. I've skipped this show for ages (there was similar casting in 2015-16), but I suspect Berti - who's had a good track record in forceful stuff - is more likely to deliver as Calaf than Aronica.

Madama Butterfly
He, DeShong, Pretti, Szot / Morandi (October)
He, DeShong, Carè, Szot / Morandi (November)
He, DeShong, Carè, Domingo / Morandi (November)
Martínez, Zifchak, Carè, Brück / Morandi
The two debuting Italian tenors are the most notable part of this revival.

Orfeo ed Euridice
Barton, Hong, Park / Wigglesworth (October-November)
The final day of this revival will be within a week of the 35th anniversary of Hei-Kyung Hong's Met debut. I'm not sure Jamie Barton is ready to carry the lead, but I've wanted to see Hyesang Park graduate from bit parts since she and Kang Wang starred in a most memorable Juilliard/Lindemann Sonnambula a few years back.

La Boheme
Pérez, Kulchynska, Polenzani, Bizic, Zhilikhovsky, Park / Armiliato (October-November)
Agresta, Phillips, Alagna, Ruciński, Madore, Van Horn / Armiliato (January)
Pérez, Rowley, Calleja, Álvarez, Pogossov, Nazmi / Villaume (April-May)
More tenor star power than usual. Ailyn Perez is not only an excellent lyric soprano in general but the only natural fit for Mimi here in a decade; Maria Agresta, though possessed of nice softer sounds, wasn't the most imaginative when I saw her in the role in 2016 (though the rest of the cast didn't help).
After Hong's Euridices (above), she has one scheduled Mimi on November 14 alongside Jacqueline Nichols as Musetta.

Akhnaten (new Phelim McDermott production)
Costanzo, Lárusdóttir, Bridges / Kamensek (November-December)
Another ENO share, this time with LA Opera, taking McDermott back to his most successful Met show (Satyagraha). Neither Phillip Glass nor countertenors are to my taste, but I'm sure there are enough partisans for a succès d'estime.

Le Nozze di Figaro
Pisaroni, Sierra, Phillips, Plachetka, Arquez / Manacorda (November-December)
Plachetka, Müller, Hartig, Kwiecien, Crebassa / Meister (February)
A bunch of debuts here are mixed with Plachetka swapping between the male lead roles. Cornelius Meister, incidentally, is proving himself a natural Mozartean in this season's Don Giovanni.

The Queen of Spades
Antonenko, Davidsen, Maximova, Diadkova, Golovatenko, Markov / Petrenko (November-December)
I'm not sure Aleksandrs Antonenko has the internal forcefulness to make the most of Tchaikovsky's dramatic masterpiece, but the debuts of young Norwegian next-big-thing soprano Lise Davidsen and Russian (by way of Liverpool and Oslo) conductor Vasily Petrenko are interesting enough.

Der Rosenkavalier
Nylund, Kožená, Schultz, Groissböck, Polenzani / Rattle (December-January)
Van Kooten, Brower, Schultz, Groissböck, Polenzani / Rattle (December 28)
The production is a misfire, the Octavian seems quite miscast, and Simon Rattle isn't the first conductor who comes to mind for Strauss, but perhaps Camilla Nylund or the less-known Americans in the one-off can carry the day.

The Magic Flute (abridged version in English)
Harvey, Portillo, Lewek, Hopkins, Rosel, Carfizzi, Robinson / Koenigs (December-January)
Fang, Portillo, Lewek, Hopkins, Rosel, Carfizzi, Howard / Koenigs (December)
Fang, Groves, Park, Liverman, Rosel, Croft, Howard / Koenigs (January)
The usual kids' show. Probably the first cast is best.

Wozzeck (new William Kentridge production)
Mattei, van den Heever, Mumford, Ventris, Siegel, Staples, Van Horn / Nézet-Séguin (December-January)
Kentridge and Luc De Wit's 2010 Nose was an electric, illuminating hit; their 2015 Lulu was a trivializing, DOA mistake. This Berg opera starts in a much less coherently-ordered world, so perhaps Kentridge's one trick will suit.
And oh yes: I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it work, but Peter Mattei - the Don Giovanni of our lifetimes - is about the most bizarre choice imaginable for Wozzeck.

NYE Netrebko Gala
Netrebko, Polenzani, Eyvazov / Nézet-Séguin (December 31)
Three Puccini selections, all starring Anna Netrebko: Act I of Boheme, Act I of Tosca, and Act II of Turandot. This sort of show-off evening seems to me a much more suitable gala choice than the premiere of some new production that may or may not be any good.

La Traviata
Kurzak, Popov, Kelsey / Chichon (January-February)
Oropesa, Grigolo, Salsi / De Billy (February-March)
Unsurprisingly, the Michael Mayer production that debuted this season returns immediately with multiple casts.

La Damnation de Faust
Hymel, Garanča, Abdrazakov / Gardner (January-February)
Spyres, Garanča, Abdrazakov / Gardner (February)
The premiere of this show over a decade ago was the first big sign of how dramatically empty Robert Lepage's Ring would turn out. Still, Bryan Hymel and Michael Spyres in French stuff are something.

Agrippina (new David McVicar production)
DiDonato, Rae, Lindsey, Davies, Rock, Rose / Bicket (February-March)
Yes, it's a share with La Monnaie, but having the Met do a new Handel production for you is, before Joyce DiDonato premieres this show, something only Renee Fleming has managed since the '80s.

Così fan tutte
Car, Malfi, Bliss, Pisaroni, Stober, Finley / Bicket (February-March)
Serena Malfi and Ben Bliss return from last year's debut cast. Harry Bicket is more reliably good conducting Handel, but Robertson didn't set the highest bar last time.

Der Fliegende Holländer (new François Girard production)
Terfel, Kampe, Skorokhodov, Portillo, Selig / Gergiev (March)
Disappointing followups to impressive debut productions aren't rare, and Dutchman is a more direct piece than Parsifal, but this seems the most promising new production as such. I'd be surprised if the musical side - with gone-for-a-while Bryn Terfel and Valery Gergiev alongside debuting veteran soprano Anja Kampe - matches the explosive triumph Michael Volle, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Amber Wagner put together in the old production two years back, but it's possible.

La Cenerentola
Erraught, Camarena, Luciano, Muraro, Van Horn / Gaffigan (March-April)
Mezzo Tara Erraught sang well but was unbearably sitcommy as Nicklausse in her 2017 Met debut; perhaps she'll be a better fit for this more comedic part. Camarena is always a pleasure in this rep.

Werther
Beczala, DiDonato, Garifullina, Dupuis / Nézet-Séguin (March)
The premiere of this production was a big triumph for tenor Jonas Kaufmann that made a very small case for the opera itself. I suspect Joyce DiDonato's Charlotte will make for a less lopsided presentation (no matter how well Piotr Beczala sings), and Nézet-Séguin in French rep has been terrific. Aida Garifullina, incidentally, was a delight as Zerlina in this winter's Don Giovanni and I expect as much of her Sophie here.

Tosca
Netrebko, Mavlyanov, Gagnidze / de Billy (March-April)
Netrebko, Jagde, Volle / de Billy (April)
Rowley, Jagde, Gagnidze / de Billy (April)
American tenor Brian Jagde debuted five years ago in a memorable Arabella revival, but this is his first lead role here. The other players should be pretty familiar from this season and last.

Simon Boccanegra
Álvarez, Pérez, Calleja, Azizov, Belosselskiy / Rizzi (April)
On the one hand, there are question marks. It will have been almost a dozen years between Met performances for Carlos Alvarez when this revival begins, though he's certainly been busy elsewhere; Ailyn Perez has never sung a Verdi part here (though again she's done much elsewhere); Dmitry Belosselskiy is good enough but not the grand old man we're used to as Fiesco; Carlo Rizzi has had his moments in Puccini but not so much in Verdi. On the other hand, Joseph Calleja in Verdi is always a treat and the opera itself, like Clemenza, always seems to turn out for the best at the Met.

Maria Stuarda
Damrau, Barton, Costello, Filończyk, Pertusi / Benini (April-May)
Unexpected match of piece and performers - and I'm not sure the vocal contrast between Mary and Elizabeth isn't too great - but I think the title part plays to Diana Damrau's musical strengths.

Manon Lescaut
Yoncheva, Álvarez, Azizov, Sherratt / Farnes (April-May)
One can't do much about Eyre's gross misreading of the structure of Puccini's creation, but perhaps, four years on, one of the house's assistant directors can add the personenregie (both in interaction and development) lacking in the initial run.

Káťa Kabanová
Phillips, Mack, Zajick, Černoch, Margita, Appleby, Tomlinson / Koenigs (May)
I'm not sure what's odder: that this opera is being revived at all or that Susanna Phillips, who's stuck pretty closely to the core German-Italian rep, is starring in it. But good on both parts! Kat'a was probably the least congenial Janacek lead for Karita Mattila, the driver for his works' airing at the Met of late, so seeing a very different sort of soprano take the part is welcome.