09 Jun 2008
Star Power in Paris “Capuleti”
For Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” Paris Opera peopled its revival with plenty of star power.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
For Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” Paris Opera peopled its revival with plenty of star power.
No question that soprano Anna Netrebko is one of opera’s most visible, most glamorous, and most sought-after marquee names. And the French are positively nutty for mezzo Joyce DiDonato (the rest of the world is catching up) who has scored several (deserved) major career successes in the French capital. Small wonder then that there was a profusion of musical thrill seekers brandishing “je cherche billets” placards outside the sold-out Bastille house.
To get it out of the way up front (as it were): in spite of being five months pregnant, Ms. Netrebko was a radiant and wholly successful “Giulietta.” She was beautifully costumed in a flowing white gown to minimize the modest protrusion of a tummy, and she moved with her usual freedom and grace, including carefully assisted kneeling and fainting moments as required by the plot. Only when she was flat on her “dead” back did her condition become more apparent.
Her full-bodied, creamy lyric voice not only rang out thrillingly in the hall, but she commanded several breathtaking high-flying pianissimi as well. In her current “condition” it seemed that she may have divided up a few of the longer phrases to maintain breath control, but nowhere was this disturbing to the overall line. She nailed all of the familiar set pieces, and the audience responded with predictably enthusiastic ovations.
For all her star quality, natural beauty, musical gifts, and attendant adulation, Ms. Netrebko seems to be a sincere and unaffected colleague, deferring the stage to her co-stars as the focus of the drama requires. A wonderful collaborator, a fine voice, alluring presence, Anna is the real deal without seeming to be a real diva.
To say that she was matched in star power by mezzo Joyce DiDonato’s “Romeo” would be an understatement. Ms. DiDonato has a wide-ranging, high-powered, personalized and slightly reedy voice that she deploys fearlessly to communicate every fine point of this complicated love-torn character. There is no nuance of this role that escapes her. The deeply felt cry when “Giulietta’s” corpse was unveiled broke my heart. She is a fine artist, with perfect diction and total understanding of the text and the internalized emotion behind it. For the record, she was given the final bow, after the more famous Anna (perhaps because the soprano has asked that Patrizia Ciofi spell her for three performances of the run?).
As if these two would not be enough cause for celebration, the entire show was cast from strength. Mathew Polenzani (“Tebaldo”) served notice right at the top that we were in for a sensational night, his refined lyric tenor ringing out in the house, and his first aria/cabaletta as fine as we could wish. “Lorenzo” was so well-voiced by Mikhail Petrenko, and “Capulet” by Giovanni Battista Parodi that it was a pity there was not more for them to do.
Joyce DiDonato and Anna Netrebko (Photo by Christian Leiber courtesy of Opéra national de Paris
Robert Carsen directed the original production and it is hard to know how much he participated in the revival. An assistant, Isabelle Cardin is also credited. Whoever, this was excellent work. Carsen knows how to place singers on the stage so we are hearing them to maximum advantage, and he knows how to move them logically to those positions through motivated blocking and well-considered character interaction. Good God, a director who knows how to tell the story!
He found an excellent partner in Michael Levine, whose handsome red-paneled walls provided a wonderful playing space with the simple addition of set pieces (stairs, bed, banquet table). The chapel was especially effective with a wide band of light emanating from up left and rows of chairs as pews providing all that was required. The tomb was no less effective, with one wall panel tellingly removed to create a tomb that was ready to accept “Giulietta,” who lay in a pool of light surrounded by flower petals, and was backed by back-lit choristers on a slightly akimbo staircase.
The team immediately established the important background of conflict by having swords stuck in the stage apron which were plucked up by the assembling “Capulets” during the overture. This visual theme was returned to at the end of Act One when the clans square off by advancing on each other and locking weapons in a group freeze center stage at curtain fall. And in a brilliant tweak, at work’s end the two forces assemble in the same aggressive tableau around and over the dead bodies, visually stating that no matter how profound the tragedy, we will walk over the corpses to have history repeat itself.
One other brilliant touch: Act Two opened to the same chapel as had closed One, but revealing dead bodies and over-turned chairs, the sad result of war. As “Giulietta” sank down to her “death,” the dead rose again in a chilling effect, as if on Judgment Day, to welcome her to their ranks. The sumptuous red velvet period costumes (black for the “Montagues”) were exactly right, and provided an elegant sense of time and place.
Conductor Evelino Pidò’s reading of this score was a revelation. I cannot ever remember being so persuaded by the music, or so engaged in, and moved by the drama of Bellini’s somewhat flawed version of the famous tale. The solo work from the clarinet, cello, harp, and horn was top drawer, and indeed the entire orchestra performed splendidly.
There are those who may have come to “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” because it was “the event” of the season, but they most certainly stayed to cheer it to the rafters because it was just so damn’ good. Make that “great.”