Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne

Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which was new in 2012, returned to Glyndebourne on 3 July 2016 revived by Ian Rutherford.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Marina Poplavskaya as Violetta [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
16 Jan 2011

The Magic Flute and La Traviata, New York

The dust on 65th Street is clearing up and the reviews for the renovated Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts are in — the piazza is being hailed as newly “inviting” by architects and arts critics alike, and rightly so.

W. A. Mozart: The Magic Flute
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

See body of review for cast lists

Above: Marina Poplavskaya as Violetta

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

But what about the individual institutions that make Lincoln Center the landmark it is? How can we make them as welcoming?

On January 6, the Metropolitan Opera attracted a large and lively crowd for the season’s final performance of its reduced version of Julie Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute, sung in English. Despite the family appeal, the adults in the audience still far outnumbered their younger counterparts.

Unfortunately, there were moments of obvious disconnect between conductor Erik Nielsen, the Met orchestra, and the singers. The evening got off to a rough start due to the awkward excising of the overture and some rather listless performances from Bruce Sledge as Tamino and Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jamie Barton, and Tamara Mumford as the Three Ladies. Things didn’t pick up until Nathan Gunn’s assured entrance as Papageno.

Susanna Phillips worked hard to make her Pamina three-dimensional and she succeeded despite some bizarre staging and an inexplicable costume. Bass Morris Robinson deserves kudos for his performance as Sarastro. He was one of only a few artists who made the most of singing and speaking in the audience’s vernacular. Ashley Emerson did an especially good job with her spoken scenes as Papagena and brought real charm to the role.

There are several fun moments in this production but, on the whole, the performance felt uncoordinated and severely lacking in the magic department. At the curtain call, a man sitting behind me yelled “Bravo!” when a cast member came onstage to take a bow, but then immediately turned to his companion and said, “I don’t even remember that guy!” Yes, that man in the audience can say he went to the opera and maybe he even enjoyed the 140 minutes he spent there, but the nearly instantaneous amnesia he experienced is not what opera is about. I began to wonder exactly how much putting a friendlier face on Lincoln Center has cost, and not necessarily in dollars.

_S1E3231a.gifMarina Poplavskaya as Violetta and Mattew Polenzani as Alfredo

When the audience is packed with people young and old cheering in the aisles has the battle for a more “inviting” Lincoln Center been won? Not if they’re streaming out the doors before the prima donna has taken her bow. Not if they forget about the opera they just saw before they even catch a cab at that fancy new underpass.

If Thursday night’s performance was unmemorable, Friday night’s showing of the Met’s newly acquired production of La Traviata provided plenty to think about. German director Willy Decker has not only stripped the drama to its essentials, he also effectively changed the opera’s architecture by eliding the final three acts into a single sequence. Strangely enough, this had less of an effect on the combined acts than it had on Act I, which felt weakly related to the rest of the evening. Still, the evening progressed seamlessly from the single intermission to the end, the drama unfolding at a relentless pace that illustrated both Violetta’s lifestyle and her illness.

Restructuring the opera in this manner created an added challenge for Marina Poplavskaya in the title role. In the first act her defiant and flippant Violetta spent practically the entire time posturing and posing. This could have been dramatically effective if the singing had been tossed off with more ease. As it was, both the acting and the singing felt effortful. Still, she met the trials of the long second half and her performance of “Addio, del passato” was genuinely touching.

As Alfredo, Matthew Polenzani sang with an appealing mix of passion and elegance despite a few potentially awkward staging moments. Moreover, he was the only cast member to comfortably fit Decker’s style within a greater musical context. Playing the elder Germont, Andrzej Dobber sang and acted with unusual brusqueness. Although a refreshing reminder of bourgeois prejudices, this harshness should have been better tempered with more subtle compassion in order to make his later actions logical and to soften his sound in places.

_MG_1786a.gifMattew Polenzani as Alfredo and Andrzej Dobber as Germont

Jennifer Holloway was a stylish and androgynous Flora but, because of her costuming, she got lost in the crowd despite a fine performance. In the dramatically expanded role of Dr. Grenville, Luigi Roni did an excellent job of segueing between the part as originally written and functioning as an effective personification of death. Among the comprimario parts, Maria Zifchak was excellent and underused as Annina. Juhwan Lee and Joseph Turi both made strong impressions as well.

As for the production itself, only time will tell if Decker’s version can withstand the rotating casts and quickly changing tastes that burden a repertory production of La Traviata. While the previous Met production practically engulfed singers with its fussiness, Decker’s is brilliantly and almost cruelly exposed. Furthermore, while the attractive set and nearly uniform costumes feel both contemporary and timeless, they have a whitewashing effect that the singers must fight against. A power couple such as Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon may have done it with ease, but it is difficult to imagine a pair of singers who could match their success. However, the staging and design of Decker’s production (with sets and costume designs by Wolfgang Gussmann) are intriguing and enjoyable. Like the renovations that surround the opera house, I consider the Met’s new Traviata to be a success.

Alison Moritz

Cast Lists:

W. A. Mozart: Magic Flute — Pamina: Susanna Phillips; Queen of the Night: Erika Miklosa; Tamino: Bruce Sledge; Papageno: Nathan Gunn; Speaker: Tom Fox; Sarastro: Morris Robinson; Papagena: Ashley Emerson; 1st Lady: Wendy Bryn Harmer; 2nd Lady: Jamie Barton; 3rd Lady: Tamara Mumford; Monostatos: Joel Sorensen. Conductor: Erik Nielsen. Production: Julie Taymor. Set Designer: George Tsypin. Costume Designer: Julie Taymor.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata — Violetta: Marina Poplavskaya; Alfredo: Mattew Polenzani; Germont: Andrzej Dobber; Flora: Jennifer Holloway; Annina: Maria Zifchak; Gastone: Scott Scully; Dr. Grenvil: Luigi Roni; Giuseppe: Juhwan Lee; Messenger: Joseph Turi. Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda. Production: Willy Decker.

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):