31 Oct 2008
Lucia di Lammermoor at the MET
Mary Zimmerman’s unmusical production of Lucia certainly improves if you give it a cast of singers who know what Donizetti is about.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
Mary Zimmerman’s unmusical production of Lucia certainly improves if you give it a cast of singers who know what Donizetti is about.
This was true in the autumn revival (the cast will change again come spring), but some of the dopier director’s touches have been toned down a bit, and to top it off, there was a major set malfunction at the Saturday performance: the great spiral staircase that is the center of the action in Act III was a no-show, and the chorus and soloists were obliged to invent new business on a bare stage on the spur of the moment – which they did, improving markedly on last year’s skit.
The stars of the night – who brought the audience to its feet, and kept them cheering, though it was already half an hour past midnight – were Diana Damrau and Piotr Beczala. Damrau is a full-voiced dramatic coloratura, a type we haven’t heard much of late (who was the last one? June Anderson, perhaps), and her cool, beautifully straightforward soprano is carved from golden ore not unlike Joan Sutherland’s. She imitated that lady in several Mad Scene touches, and though lacking a genuine trill and a perfectly secure top, gave a credible version of her style of Lucia, adding many dramatic touches, perhaps just because she was feeling the part and the occasion. She can certainly improvise on stage, never one of La Stupenda’s skills.
Item: During her first cabaletta, “Quando rapito in estasi,” when her luscious high legato was being amusingly shushed by Michaela Martens’s Alisa, Damrau occasionally sacrificed flawless phrasing to cute little jokes. This gave us an idea of Lucia as a person, a Scottish girl with a sense of humor – but as that is not the Lucia she played in later acts (or that Donizetti wrote), I couldn’t quite see the point of it, and would have preferred more of that easy, purling legato.
Item: Damrau showed rather more fire in confronting brother Enrico – Dessay played a feather in the wind, with no fight at all – but the music says “fire,” and Damrau played fire. But I think it an error to have her palm a dagger at the end of the scene – she is not planning bloodshed; she will do it on the spur of the moment.
Item: She did not seem oblivious to everything around her during the sextet, as Dessay did. That never made any sense. (Wouldn’t Arturo notice?) Damrau tried to keep an eye on the violence while posing for the photographer. She sang it beautifully, too. The photographer was not so obtrusive as last year, but still unnecessary – Zimmerman put him in because she thinks there is nothing happening when people are merely standing about singing. That is fundamentally not the case in bel canto opera, or we wouldn’t be at the opera – in bel canto, singing is the action, is the point. Zimmerman was the person who shouldn’t be here. Neither should the photographer. Or the ghost. Or the doctor in the Mad Scene. Or the distracting servants changing the scenery when Raimondo sings his cabaletta. But mostly Mary Zimmerman.
Diana Damrau in the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
Item: The shocked turn of the head when the flute solo intrudes in the Mad Scene, Sutherland’s signature, was well achieved, and the craziness was lower key, more integral, than Dessay’s, but what really thrilled in this long stretch of bravura singing was the dramatic variety and color Damrau brought to Lucia’s mad changes of mood: elegiac (with a truly ghostly glass harmonica accompaniment) during the wedding hallucination, cries of grief defending herself to the imaginary Edgardo, and then, after (in this production) the doctor has injected her with a sedative, singing the second verse of the cabaletta in an ever more woozy, weavy way, like an exhausted bird spiraling down to the floor. It was a complete characterization.
Damrau’s voice, large, suave, cool, lovely, after a few wooden phrases in the lower ranges in her opening scene, filled the house with no trouble at all, and turned into glittering silver cascades at Lucia’s dreamy moments. It was the prettiest Lucia at the Met since the heyday of Ruth Ann Swenson, and first-rate bravura acting as well.
Piotr Beczala as Edgardo in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
The evening’s second star – by a hair (and because Donizetti designed the opera for prima donna) – was the Polish tenor, Piotr Beczala. He has a rich, liquid tenor of exceptional quality, top to bottom, with a never overstated sob when necessary, and urgency when the dramatic moment demands. Too, he fills the house with it, without pushing or barking. Edgardo is a plum for the tenor who knows how to seize it, and Beczala did not waste anything. Withal, he cuts a slim, handsome figure, is a good actor, and his Italian diction is impeccable. It was easy (if a pity) to shut one’s eyes and enjoy oneself whenever the direction demanded he do something stupid. The one thing I might have wanted that was not here, vocally, was a bit more maddened forza during the famous Curse after the Sextet, a moment that can make or break a tenor’s reputation.
Vladimir Stoyanov’s baritone sounded a bit hollow in the opening scene, but he sang it, not screamed it, and that is a good thing. He warmed up by Act II, but (aided by a plain face and an unattractive pre-Raphaelite haircut) he always remembered he was the nasty in this opera. Ildar Abdrazakov used his height and sturdiness to enhance the impression his singing gave that Raimondo is the still, sane center of this damnfool family. Sean Panikkar – much too tall and strapping for a fellow who is knocked over and dispatched by a slip of a girl in thirty seconds flat – sang a promising Arturo, matching the impression he made as Edmondo in Manon Lescaut last year. (Don’t blame Donizetti for the folly of this: it was Zimmerman’s idea to cut the murder to thirty seconds by having bride and groom climb the staircase at the scene’s opening. Donizetti and his librettis, Romani, would never have been so dumb.)
A scene from Donizett’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” with Diana Damrau in the title role.
Damrau seemed especially delighted to run off stage during the curtain calls to bring on conductor Marco Armiliato; she hugged him, and he waved a bit of bloody veil at us. Doing a staircase Mad Scene impromptu, with no staircase, calls for reliability in the pit, and he was happy to stand in for the rickety stairs. Certainly he propelled things capably, kept cool while those on stage invented, and the ghostly orchestral effects that can fade for lack of attention were on this occasion exceptionally noteworthy, moody and striking.
The crowd, rather small for a Saturday night, stuck it out, and responded with enthusiasm. You have to wonder what the effect on the audience would have been with such a first-rate cast if they had been performing in a decent, old-fashioned staging of an opera that, after 175 years of success, really doesn’t need a tyro director’s helping hand.