Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La bohème, LA Opera

On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.

Amazons Enchant San Francisco

On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as examples.

The Makropulos Case, Munich

Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life.

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gaetano Donizetti:Lucia di Lammermoor (Rafal Olbinski)
09 Oct 2007

The Met’s New Lucia

Of Donizetti’s fifty or so “serious” operas, Lucia di Lammermoor was the only one to survive his heyday almost unscathed by change of fashion; today, when a dozen of his other worthy works have been restored to the repertory, Lucia easily hangs on.

Gaetano Donizetti:Lucia di Lammermoor

The Metropolitan Opera, 5 October 2007

Above: Lucia di Lammermoor by Rafal Olbinski

 

The reasons are clear: Donizetti and his librettist, Cammarano, were stage-wise pros and their work, boiled down from a verbose Walter Scott novel, is a tight dramatic ship as well as tunefully irresistible. The sextet has been called the most famous ensemble in opera, but it does not come from nowhere — it bursts logically from a nervous situation, and the scene that follows propels the excitement to a teetering high. Coloraturas prove themselves on the Fountain Scene and the Mad Scene, but the latter, too, is the logical result of all that has gone before. The Tomb Scene that follows may be anticlimactic, but its beauty has lured many a great tenor to attempt to steal the show.

The Met has always loved Lucia; every notable Lucia of the last 124 years has sung it there. This season’s new production is the fourth to play the New Met; its look is handsome and conservative to suit the taste of the American opera audience. The era has been warped to the late nineteenth century for no obvious reason, though it does permit Natalie Dessay to wear a tight Empress Sisi riding habit in Act I and glamorous red silk in Act II. (I thought the Ashtons were strapped for money?) In the Met’s previous Lucia, properly set two hundred years earlier, zaftig Ruth Ann Swenson was unattractively got up as one of Charles II’s bare-breasted floozies, but Dessay is the raison d’être of the show — her maddened face is all over New York, on every news and subway kiosk — and she presumably had more influence with the costume shop. (“She’d look good in anything,” muttered the woman beside me.)

The director is Mary Zimmerman, who like so many tyros brought in by the Gelb regime, has never staged an opera before. Her theater skills are evident, but also her unfamiliarity with the form. In bel canto opera, singing is the primary focus — everything else seems secondary because it is secondary. Beautiful music is where the drama occurs, and such acting as may occur should support that. It’s very exciting when singers can act, as nowadays most of them can, and Dessay is famous for it — but it’s not primary. That is the message someone should have explained to Zimmerman when she grew impatient — as, alas, she did — with moments, minutes, of mere music.

It will puzzle anyone who knows Lucia why any director would upstage the famous sextet, but that is what Zimmerman has done by introducing a new character — a fussy society photographer — who is busily placing people for a Victorian wedding photo, so that instead of a tragic crisis, we have a giggly skit. Very funny, but why is it here? Does Zimmerman think this is a comic opera? Three new corpses for Six Feet Under, perhaps?

Zimmerman obliges us to choose between paying attention to her or paying attention to the opera, which is just what I object to about new wave opera directors. She distracts us from Dessay’s lovely account of “Regnava nel silenzio” by bringing on the ghost of whom the aria tells. The ghost tiptoes down a hill, beckons, and vanishes into the well, very intriguing, but who, then, is paying attention to Dessay’s singing? Only those who know it, and force themselves to ignore the stage. Again, when Raimondo, beautifully sung by John Relyea, admonishes Lucia to accept her fate in an aria often cut, many people may not notice because a bunch of servants behind him are changing the Act II set from scene 1 to scene 2. With a camera, Zimmerman could focus our attention on Relyea; on a stage the size of the Met’s, his artistry goes almost for naught. Too, if Lucia and Arturo are seen mounting the staircase at the beginning of what will become the Mad Scene, they have less than two minutes for Lucia to go mad, find a knife, stab him 23 times, drench herself in blood, and be discovered before Raimondo rushes back to the hall with the news. Then there’s the doctor who comes on in mid Mad Scene to administer the injection that (we must infer) causes Dessay’s death and the exquisite and fanciful variations of her cabaletta — it’s amusing, but this is supposed to be a tragic melodrama, not sketch comedy. At last, in the Tomb Scene finale, when Marcello Giordani is pouring his heart out in the tenor’s big solo moment, Dessay returns, costumed in the ghost’s gray-white from Act I, and distracts us from his singing. Thinking of ways to take our minds off the singing appears to be Zimmerman’s first principle of opera direction. The singing, at least with this cast, is too good for this.

At the October 5 performance, two weeks after the premiere, the star was certainly Dessay, and it was a performance of the role not of the music alone, the vocalism never divorced from the neurotic girl giving way under emotional pressure. Her faints and mad, inappropriate giggles were credible, as was the shock of the guests (and ourselves, familiar with the piece as we might be) at the sight of this birdlike creature’s indecorous behavior. Dessay’s is a Lucia for the present day, when coloratura shenanigans are expected to defer to character. The contrast of her freakish acting with the formality of Donizetti’s melodies and ornaments created an uneasy disjuncture; this is simply not a naturalistic part. But edge can be good in the theater; in time it can become custom: There were charges of tastelessness when Sutherland, fifty years ago, became the first Lucia to have blood on her dress at all. (“She stabbed him over and over!” she pointed out at the time.) Psychologist Brigid Brophy noted that to see a virgin bride stained with blood was not unusual — to see her in her husband’s blood gave the story a jolt. Lucia has always submitted to one strong-willed man or another. Going murderously mad is her way of fighting back. None of the men expect this, and with so petite and (in Act II) pallid a Lucia, it is especially unsettling.

Dessay makes the opera her own by forceful acting, and sings her arias beautifully, but her tiny voice does not command it — she can be overpowered whenever any other voice sings, obliging her to hold her high notes until she can be sure she’s got a clear place to insert them. (Someone should advise the Alisa, Michaela Martens, that it is not good form to drown out the diva at an act finale.) Her ornaments are prettily executed, often given dramatic point by gesture or attitude, but their function of illustrating the character’s state of mind has been usurped by those gestures or, worse, by ghosts, doctors and other distractions. She may be more thrilling to see than to hear.

As Edgardo, Marcello Giordani sang with a liquid tenor thriving on the duet with Dessay and, best of all, his morbid double-aria in the final scene. More passionate outbursts — the famous “Maledizione” of Act II — seemed to push him towards shrillness rather than intensity, and his “Come on, fight me” gestures to the furious wedding guests were awfully Italian in so rigidly Scottish a production. As Enrico, Mariusz Kwiecien’s best act was the second, the suave, menacing duet that breaks his sister’s will — he was close to cracking during what should be the cold fury of the opening scene and withdrew due to illness before Act III’s Wolf’s Crag scene, replaced by a capable debutante Stephen Gaertner. John Relyea, as Raimondo, turned in the best-judged performance for the style of the music and the even flow of line. Young Stephen Costello, the hapless Arturo, has an exciting sound that has aroused comment, but his high notes were not without strain. It was James Levine’s night off; Jens Georg Bachmann, his replacement, kept the singers cued and the drama tight.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):