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.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
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.”