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.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.
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.”