09 Nov 2011
Roméo et Juliette, LA
Love and gloom at the Los Angeles Opera.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
Love and gloom at the Los Angeles Opera.
Though love and gloom permeate Gounod’s Roméo and Juliette — the opera opens with a melancholy choral prologue and ends with a tear provoking death duet — it was love that won the day when the curtain came down at the opera’s November 6th opening performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But this was not the love of the young protagonists for each other, rather it was that of the audience for the opera, its principle performers, and its conductor Placido Domingo. The moment the curtain fell, applause overwhelmed the last orchestral sounds. And the instant it rose again to reveal the singers and set, bodies shot forth from their seats as one.
The current production is a revival of the 2005 presentation of the work directed by Ian Judge. As it did six years ago, Roméo and Juliette brought together two young singers at the thresholds of their operatic careers, Georgian soprano, Nino Machaidze, and Italian tenor, Vittorio Grigolo. More about them in a moment.
Shakespeare’s play, shaped for Gounod by librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré into five acts that focus exclusively on the lovers, gave the composer abundant opportunity write music filled with love and with dread. When it was produced in Paris in 1867, the work immediately won the hearts of French audiences. Its first Metropolitan Opera performances in 1884 were sung in Italian. Its reappearance in the Met repertory at an 1891 performance in Chicago marked the first time the company sang a French opera in French. It was as quickly a success here as well, and why not? Those early performances featured the De Reszke brothers and Emma Eames.
Who knows what the De Reszkes and Mme. Eames, swathed in their their multilayered costumes would have made of this slick production delivered in two acts, featuring slim young lovers romping in bed half nude, and set nowhere in particular? The essentially unit set with movable sections, is a skeletal iron structure which recalls old Parisian arcades, or the base of Eiffel Tower. However, the set changes were fairly rapid and effective. Costumes were dark and restrained. The beautifully constructed gowns for the First Act ball never lit the scene, perhaps to help us keep us in mind of impending doom. My major grievance relates to the direction after Mercutio’s death. Ian Judge has our hero fighting dirty. After hand to hand pushing and shoving and a brief duel with knives, Romeo suddenly has a gun in his hand and unhesitatingly shoots Tybalt point blank. If you heard someone exclaim. “that’s that not fair,” you were sitting near me.
Alexey Sayapin as Tybalt and Museop Kim as Mercutio
Neither Machaidze or Grigolo, who was making his LA debut, is new to French opera. The soprano was Juliet in Salzburg in 2008 and in Verona this past July. She and Grigolo performed their roles together in June at La Scala. Grigolo has also sung Hoffmann and scored an enormous success as Des Grieux in his Covent Garden debut.
Machaidze was a charming Juliet, though her voice, noticeably edgier than in her Salzburg Juliet, was occasionally shrill at the top. Grigolo, known in his youth in Italy as il Pavarottini, has a dark robust almost baritonal voice with a gravelly buzz in mid range that opens to a clarion clarity at the top. Slim and handsome, he is also remarkably agile and scaled the gates and ladders keeping him from his beloved with the litheness of a cat burglar.
Vladimir Chernov as Capulet and Nino Machaidze as Juliette, with Ronnita Nicole Miller (in black) as Juliette's Nurse, and Daniel Armstrong (at right, in rear) as Count Paris
Museup Kim as Mercutio and Renée Rapier, making an unexpected LA opera debut as Stephano, were outstanding in this large cast. Vitalij Kowaljow was a sonorous Friar Laurence. Alexey Sayapin debuted as Tybalt. Baritone Vladimir Chernov sang the thankless role of Count Capulet, and Ronnita Nicole Miller had little to sing about as Juliette’s nurse.
Maestro Domingo’s conducting, while responsive to Gounod’s long melodic lines, whether instrumental or vocal, lacked the rhythmic thrust that keeps a repeated waltz beat buoyant. Perhaps his rehearsal time was limited. But no one cared. With the production staff, performers, conductor and chorus on stage, and the energetic Grigolo pulling them forward for yet another bow, all was love Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles opera.