Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Marcelo Álvarez as Manrico [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
25 Mar 2009

Il Trovatore at the MET

For nearly a decade after its premiere, in 1853, Il Trovatore was the most popular opera, perhaps the most popular stage work on the planet — even more than Rigoletto or Ernani, and far more than Traviata, which had its premiere the following autumn.

G. Verdi: Il Trovatore

Leonora: Sondra Radvanovsky; Azucena: Dolora Zajick; Manrico: Marcelo Álvarez; Count di Luna: Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Ferrando: Kwangchul Youn.

Above: Marcelo Álvarez as Manrico

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

Not until Gounod’s Faust appeared, did Trovatore grudgingly yield first place, but it didn’t go quietly. (Quietly? Trovatore?) At the old Met at the turn of the century, before unions, Trovatore sometimes appeared on double bills — the millionaires in the boxes might depart for other entertainment, but the fans in the cheap seats hung on screaming till the wee hours. The Marx Brothers didn’t have to search for an opera to make fun of — they, and all their audiences, knew Trovatore’s glorious absurdities from the cradle: anvils, gypsies, long-lost kin, the stake! the poisoned ring! the block! There were literally thousands of productions, despite a story that tends to lurch around the war-torn Spanish landscape.

The conclusion one must draw is that it can’t be that difficult to stage the thing. Caruso famously said all you needed was the four greatest singers in the world, and that was when there were contenders for such title. But you don’t really need top-flight Verdi giants (a good thing; we no longer have them); you just need good singers who will hurl themselves into the drama as if ready to die to reach that high note. Listen to Emma Eames, a famously cold soprano, in her 1909 recording of the Act IV duet, “Mira d’acerbe lagrime,” with baritone Emilio de Gogorza: they seem to be aiming for a new speed record, but each grace note, each twirl of a vocal figure, is perfectly produced, perfectly in place, perfectly focused, and means what it should mean about passion and melodrama. That’s how you sing Verdi.

The Met has staged Trovatore four times since the new house opened in 1966, and the first three were variously atrocious, even when (to begin with) they had the right singers. In 1969, there was the grotesque Attilio Colonello production; in 1989, the Fabrizio Melano production, as handsome as the Colonello was ugly, but with an absurd grandiosity: set among imperial-sized columns on rollers, the gypsies encamped on a glossy ballroom floor; in 2000, the notorious Graham Vick production where, in only the evening’s most egregious folly, the tenor bursting through a four-story-high crucifix in a convent wall had the audience laughing so hard it stopped the show for ten minutes. The best Trovatore I’ve seen under Met auspices in recent years was a 1998 concert in Prospect Park under Marco Armiliato’s baton, with June Anderson and Larissa Diadkova singing like goddesses.

Hvorostovsky_and_Radvanovsk.gifDmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna and Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora

But we can’t have a grand opera house without a functional Trovatore — it has been truly called the most operatic of operas. So they had to try again, and fourth time is the charm — or have we all become less demanding?

Set designer Charles Edwards has given us a turntable with a wall on it and assorted dreary backdrops. The wall has a vertiginous staircase on one side, a mélange of Spanish architectural elements from various eras on the other, all cluttered together as, indeed, they often are in Spain. The costumes by Brigitte Reifenstuel seem more or less nineteenth century (the opera is set in 1412), but I wish she had picked just one year: Leonora wears an unfortunate Empire-waisted gown, Inez rather more Victorian garb, the Count di Luna a frilly eighteenth-century officer’s uniform and Manrico a Romanian Gypsy vest. There are various grilles for Manrico’s guerrillas to climb, most athletically, in the convent scene — which one expects of guerrillas — but how many Leonoras become crazed enough to climb them, too, on hearing Manrico’s song in the turret scene? That may be a feature of Sondra Radvanovsky’s view (expressed in an interview) of Leonora as a teenager.

David McVicar, a director famous for his “Bollywood” version of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, has made the old contraption work, and a full house on March 10 was very happy and reluctant to depart — and no one was giggling inappropriately, except perhaps Dolora Zajick as the crazed Azucena and Kwangchul Youn, a tipsy Ferrando — I’ve always thought of Ferrando as a grim retainer, telling ghost stories and nursing the family grudge. There were, it seemed to me, far too many far too noisy camp followers in Act III — they are nowadays inescapable in any soldiers’ camp scene, but when I listened to the broadcast, I could understand every syllable the soldiers were singing, and that’s very unusual (Met chorus master Donald Palumbo is my hero, as I’ve said before, at Peter Grimes and Satyagraha), but in the house one hardly noticed they were singing at all because the girls were carrying on so. The staging of the convent scene, the arrival of the guerrillas, the fight with the soldiers, the abduction of Leonora as she is about to take holy orders, was a bit choppy — it always is — but the opera’s end, confrontations, executions, revelations that follow each other with startling speed, I have never seen staged or acted more convincingly. This scene, if no other, should arouse shock and not laughter, and McVicar’s cast pulled it off. Also pulling it off were the bare-chested Gypsy blacksmiths, whose hammers mercifully hit the anvils on the beat. I cringe for lazier revivals.

Zajick.gifDolora Zajick as Azucena

Marcelo Álvarez sang the troubadour, a modern, lost, existential hero like Wagner’s Siegmund, who never learns the truth about his birth or anything else important, but whose passions drive the story. Álvarez has an impressive instrument, both graceful and sizable in mid-voice, but fading out in the upper range — like many a fine Manrico (Tucker, Domingo), he lacks the ringing top C that Verdi didn’t write anyway. He did not carry a harp or any other instrument, which was puzzling since his offstage airs are sung to a harp, and I found both these numbers a bit rushed and graceless, lacking romantic atmosphere. Manrico should have an air of mystery, the alluring voice in the darkness, the unknown knight who won that tournament, and fudging the serenade punctures this mystery. On the whole he made a stalwart, passionate, masculine figure, and it has been many years since any Met Manrico did such justice to “Ah si, ben mio,” with every little curlicue elegantly in place. This did not sound affected — it sounded seductive — a warrior in love. Naturally the girl fell all over him.

The girl was Sondra Radvanovsky, currently, by default, the Met’s leading Verdi soprano, a splendid Luisa Miller and an able Elena in Vespri Siciliani (the toughest of all Verdi soprano roles). She has all the technical devices necessary for Leonora, the floating pianissimo, acceptable trills, volume whenever called for, and she is, moreover, a passionate actress — but I would find her more convincing if she did less rolling about on the floor. Leonora may be in her teens, but she’s a Spanish noblewoman in her teens — she has dignity, she seriously considers becoming a nun; she shouldn’t remind us of Carol Burnett or Gilda Radner, and Radvanovsky’s jumping and climbing about often does. My real problem with her, though, is the quality of her voice, exciting but not beautiful — I miss the luster of Price, Arroyo, Caballé, Anderson, where the ethereal floating tone seemed to explain how this devout girl has allowed love to replace religious duty in her life. It is not a pretty or a sensuous voice; I do not love the sheer sound of it. (I’m told it sounds less acid upstairs.) But that she is a fine singing actress is beyond question.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, for whom Verdi roles in a Met-sized house sometimes seem too much, sang “Il balen” with superb, flawless line, total control and long, flowing, high notes like chocolate ganache. If the Met permitted encores, we’d all still be there, applauding or listening. “Il balen” is one of Verdi’s great internal arias, a character exploring his soul, and Counts who can put it over make us love them despite the fact that they are contemplating rape and religious violation. It was a noble performance — and it took a lot out of him, for he was way off pitch during the agitated cabaletta that follows. The rest of the night he was stern and on his mettle.

Dolora Zajick held down Azucena powerfully, lacking nothing obvious of the mad Gypsy’s force of character, but she has never been a subtle actress and I found her manic giggles out of place, her trills mere tuneless buzzing. A little more active despair — especially in her great confrontation with the Count and his army — would be in order. Some viewers found her grotesque, but the character is grotesque, indeed half mad — the story makes no sense if she’s played any other way. Rational people don’t behave like characters in Il Trovatore. That’s why we love the opera.

Gianandrea Noseda, in the pit, erred a bit on the side of bel canto — Trovatore is not bel canto, it’s blood and thunder. He tempi lag now and then as if to give the singers a hand (Emma Eames a hundred years ago would not have needed it — but these are decadent times), but my only real objection to his Trovatore is the perfunctory rush-through he gave both of Manrico’s serenades. Manrico is the eponymous troubadour, and these are his calling cards — they require the stillness and romance of nights in the gardens of old Aragon.

But the Met has a solid Trovatore production — the first since they tore the old house down — and one that can be inhabited by any number of Verdi singers for years to come. I’m rather intrigued by the second cast, coming up in April, which will include Marco Berti (a fine Gabriele Adorno) as Manrico, Hasmik Papian (a noble Aida) as Leonora and Zeljko Lucic (a great Macbeth and Germont) as the Count.

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):