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 Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

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):