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

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Kaufmann, 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).

Janáček, The Makropulos Case, Bavarian State Opera

Opera houses’ neglect of 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. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.

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.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen
22 Feb 2008

Carmen, The Metopolitan Opera

Dread and disgruntle are the emotions natural to the fan of any special singer when he arrives at the opera house to learn she has withdrawn from the performance and been replaced by an unknown.

Georges Bizet: Carmen
The Met: February 19, 2008

Carmen: Nancy Fabiola Herrera; Don Jose: Marcelo Álvarez; Micaela: Krassimira Stoyanova; Escamillo: Lucio Gallo. Production by Franco Zeffirelli. Conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.

Above: Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen
Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera.

 

Shrouds mantle the vaults of heaven; the gilt and sparkle of the opera house seem to mock the gray mood.

Let me explain why I was eager to hear Olga Borodina’s Carmen again: She starred in a close-to-perfect series of performances of the opera a few years ago, ably partnered by Roberto Alagna (such a piteous child when he finally got the message in the last act, “Tu ne m’aimes plus?” and then leaped for her throat) and Rene Pape (the sexiest of all possible toreros).

At that performance I felt I was seeing Bizet’s Carmen for the first time — seeing the character as Bizet conceived her, as she is almost never performed. She was not a sexpot. She couldn’t be bothered to deal with masculine fantasies. She walked in on her way to work, sneered at the idiotic, amorous male chorus, sang a song (why not? She had a great voice), noticed the pretty soldier on the sidelines and tossed him a flower — for the hell of it. She was a Carmen who didn’t care if we were staring or not. Most Carmens work far too hard — they shove their poitrines in every face, they hoist their dresses to display their legs, their world is all about sex. Not Borodina — her world was all about doing what she wanted to, with whoever cared to join her — and snapping her fingers at those who would not. In Act II, when Frasquita and Mercedes pushed themselves in Escamillo’s face, this Carmen sang “L’amour,” pensively (and in that low, dusky, impossibly sensuous Borodina voice) — she wasn’t singing about love to attract Escamillo’s attention, she was brooding about it to herself. And that was just what did attract his attention. Was Jose going to kill her? All right — he was going to kill her. But he would not keep her from being herself out of something so alien as fear.

That was Carmen. A real, a credible, an adorable Carmen — precisely because she did not care if we adored her or not. She was herself. And with Borodina’s voice.

But last week something fell on Borodina’s foot, and she did not sing on February 19.

Her replacement was Nancy Fabiola Herrera, a singer unknown to me. Herrera’s Carmen was no last-minute exercise; it’s a finished portrait, everything in place, comfortable on the enormous Met stage, no matter how many choristers and herds of farm animals Franco Zeffirelli clutters it with. Not really a surprise, as Ms. Herrera was scheduled to take the role next week. Its nuances were hardly strange to her.

CARMEN_Alvarez_as_Don_Jose_.pngMarcelo Álvarez as Don Jose (Photo by Beatriz Schiller courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera.)

She is a handsome young woman with a handsome voice, a pleasing quality in the lower notes and no break. She can certainly sing it, plus she can act and dance, and plays castanets as well as any Carmen since Teresa Berganza. (I’m told she has zarzuela training.) But her Carmen was a cliché: the spitfire flirt. She sang her arias prettily enough, but she was trying to please. Of a deeper, more self-conscious Carmen there was no sign until the fortune-telling of Act III, when she withdrew into herself. She was not so pretty any more, a dark and brooding quality came over her voice, she seemed to withdraw into herself and become one with the music; the opera began to seem to be her story.

Just then, however, she came up against a rival worthy of her steel — Krassimira Stoyanova, one of the great singing actresses of our time, whom the Met has squandered on the role of Micaela. (She will be our Donna Anna next year, however; I’m expecting fireworks.) Stoyanova sang the aria beautifully, but it was her confrontation with Jose and Carmen that made us sit up straighter: she wasn’t just defeated in love, she was angry at what lust had done to the man she loved, angry at Carmen (at whom she barely deigned to look) and furious at Jose. These lines are throwaway; in most performances one hardly notices them; in this Carmen all three performers were electric, their confrontation crackled.

These later acts were Marcelo Álvarez’s best as well. A burly man, he is not flattered by Jose’s uniform; as a thuggish smuggler, whatever Carmen might say, he seems perfectly at home, capable of any violence. This made up for a weak, ill-supported account of the Flower Song. Lyric moments are not, evidently, Álvarez’s forte; when he must be passionate, he is an interesting singer. Someday, not too far off, an Otello — but just now, I wouldn’t want to hear him in the love duet of that opera until he has worked on his lyric phrasing. Just now, when he tones down the passion in order to plead, he merely sounds weak.

His madness in the final scene was less pitiable, less human than Alagna’s, but effective. He and Herrera seem to have worked on this: they did a neat little bullfighting dance, a paso doble as it were, when he came at her with his knife and she dodged, fearlessly and, with a glance of contempt, walked past him — exposing her back — daring him to do his worst. It was a thrilling conclusion, and drew a standing ovation.

Lucio Gallo was the least impressive toreador I can recall, and not merely because he is too fat to evade a slow, blind yak — his singing is without personality, pretty notes phoned in. You did not notice him; you were surprised that anyone noticed him. He has no stage gifts, and the Met appears to have stuck him in at the last minute, when they changed a run of Hoffman for Carmen late last spring, hoping it would all fall into place. I’m guessing the Met also did not think through the casting of seven-foot-tall John Hancock as Dancaire opposite four-foot Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as Remendado — I exaggerate, slightly — but they seized the opportunity for some delicious Mutt-and-Jeff muggery. When they nudge each other, as comrade smugglers will, speculating on the same female rear end, what different acts (we ponder) do they imagine performing? Jeffrey Welles sang a worthy Zuniga. (Why not give him Escamillo? Or Hancock? Neither has the physique du role, but they could both put it over with flair.)

Emmanuel Villaume conducted; the opening prelude was unsatisfactory, all crash-bang-boom and cliché. The preludes to the other acts were more satisfactory, more breathable, and he was gracious to the singers, both familiar and (in Ms. Fabiola’s case) unfamiliar.

The Zeffirelli Zoo Story production (horses, burros, dogs) holds up well, but I object to his having set the opera — three acts of which are supposed to take place in the riverside plain of Seville — in mountainous Granada, solely because the sets (especially for Act II) thus become more scenic. Let Spain be Spain.

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):