26 Apr 2012
Manon, Metropolitan Opera
Massenet’s Manon succeeds in the theater when the soprano has a real sense of the role and how she wants to present it.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year 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.
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.
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
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!
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.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
Massenet’s Manon succeeds in the theater when the soprano has a real sense of the role and how she wants to present it.
There are other juicy roles in the opera, notably that of her Chevalier des Grieux, but a Manon with a vapid Manon never works (no pun on working girl intended). At the Met, Manon has been a major vehicle for singing actresses with small voices but great cachet: Bori, Sayão, Albanese, de los Angeles, and across the Plaza it was a triumph for the vocal acting of Beverly Sills, my first Manon. More recently I have heard Renée Fleming’s listless interpretation at the Met and Natalie Dessay’s rather more on-target version (opposite Jonas Kaufman) in Chicago.
Anna Netrebko has appeared in two DVDs of the opera in rather different styles as she adjusted to different directors’ visions. Now she has come to the Met in a production by Laurent Pelly that allows her to be Manon as she understands this very young, very material girl. A fine actress as well as a talented and hardworking singer with a lovely if not always ideally exploited voice, she makes a thrilling, fully realized sensation in the part.
Anna Netrebko as Manon Lescaut
Netrebko brings rather more voice to Manon than is usually the case. She restrains her full-throated sound in the opening scenes, when Manon is fifteen and—at least in Act I—a virgin, albeit une jeune fille en fleur. She then exploits the voluptuous grandeur of her sound to the full to play the haughty beauty of the Cour-la-Reine and the passionate seductress of St. Sulpice. She reaches an ecstatic pinnacle in the Hotel de Transylvania scene, and her glow of sensual delight in the thrill of life and high society and being an object desired by Des Grieux and every other man in the room (and envied by all the women whom she used to envy) flushed body and voice with narcissistic delight. The pitiful comedown (enhanced by Chantal Thomas’s despairing, empty landscape—the best setting of the production) was perhaps not so sickly, so evanescent as the usual Manon plays it. Netrebko still had plenty of lung power to display, expressive more of agony than resigned regret. This makes me eager to hear her take on Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, which requires full-blooded sensuality in the voice from start to finish and hasn’t had it since Freni and Scotto stopped singing the part.
In any case, I can guarantee that those who go to the opera for Netrebko in Manon will not find a half-understood, half-realized or lackluster portrayal. She is bursting with life even in her saddest moments, which makes the fluster she creates among the men around her perfectly comprehensible—even in the Pelly production that (in keeping with our pornographic age) insists on making explicit, shoving our nose into, what Massenet is content to imply: the rape fantasies not merely imagined but enacted by just about every male on stage, of Manon and of every girl in the corps de ballet. (I think Massenet had it right, and Pelly’s direction undercuts the effect of Manon’s fate.)
Piotr Beczala as des Grieux and Anna Netrebko as Manon Lescaut
Piotr Beczala plays Des Grieux. He is goodlooking, tender, frenzied by turns, a fine actor and a sympathetic figure. His voice always gives pleasure, interpreting and expressing; if it sometimes fades to indistinction in the distant reaches of the house. Michael Todd Simpson replaced Paulo Szot as Manon’s corrupt cousin at the last minute, presumably with little preparation—but there was nothing in his professional, casually sensuous performance to indicate that anything (in life or this story) was new to him; he was entirely at ease, his voice agreeable and suave, his acting witty and to the point. I am told he is an admired Don Giovanni and I am eager to hear him take it on. Christophe Mortagne, light of step and livid with, alas, not quite impotent indignation, was quite fine as the roué Guillot. The trio of cocottes was played by Anne-Carolyn Bird, Jennifer Black and Ginger Costa-Jackson, top-notch casting for these small but far from insignificant character roles. They set Manon off, inspiring her to her life of ill-fame, but since they have no hearts, they have survived the catastrophe to which she succumbs.
The production is set in fin-de-siècle Paris, an era in which girls of ill fame (and accusation) were not sent to exile in Louisiana. I am not sure what Mr. Pelly thinks he has gained by abandoning the proper era except anything-as-long-as-it-hasn’t-been-done is the current style. Nor is there any point at all in having Des Grieux sleep in a bed in the nave of St. Sulpice except (as we guessed from the rise of the curtain on the scene) it will enable the act to end not with Manon and her priest taking hands and running off but with them wallowing on the blankets. Is this realistic? Do you, if you seduce someone, not seek privacy to consummate the event? Again: It is merely Pelly slavishly following current fashion, which is as evanescent as adolescent passion. I can’t wait to be free of it and of the artists who succumb to it.
Anne-Carolyn Bird as Poussette, Paulo Szot as Lescaut, Ginger Costa-Jackson as Rosette, and Jennifer Black as Javotte
Fabio Luisi led the Met orchestra in a suave, elegant account of this long, tuneful score and made the dramatic points: Real emotions lurked under the frivolous surface.
Someone should really tell the Met Titlestm that “abbé” does not mean abbot or imply the existence of an abbey; it is simply a polite way to address a priest in French.