Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Ring Disaster in LA"

I invite my readers to read the following article at Huffington Post:
How Do You Loose $5,960,000 on an Opera?

Then - check out these YouTube Videos of this production:

Ok - now.  I love the Ring Cycle - I would consider myself what the writer of this blog calls a "Ring Nut."  But I have also had experience on the inside of an opera company and I know that opera is very, very expensive and that the overall financial health of the institution must come first.  This Ring has been doomed from the start.  It has gotten nothing but bad press.  At one point I considered going.  But the 9 day spread plus the absolute weirdness of the production put me off.  Also, and for me most important - principal singers from this production were quoted in the media as complaining that this production was THE most unsafe production they had ever appeared in.  This is absolutely beyond the pale.  I am amazed that Domingo did not step in here and put an end to this or at least insist on modifications.

I am a big Domingo fan.  As a singing actor and as an artist he is unmatched in the 20th century, in my view.  But, perhaps he needs to ask more advice of Peter Gelb, who is by far the finest opera general manager I have ever observed.  I cannot disagree with the writer of this blog when he faults Domingo for this.  The top executive is ultimately responsible for both successes and failures.  This is true at banks, car companies, insurance companies, churches and opera companies.  The buck has to stop with at his desk.  I do think that the comment about Simon Bocanegra was a cheap shot however and not really relevant to his basic argument.

In conclusion, we need new productions of the Ring.  But we need responsible productions.  It is possible.  In my years with Opera Illinois we had a financial crisis during our production of "The Ballad of Baby Doe."  We had to cancel the set and the costumes.  What to do?  Our inventive and creative stage director created a production with set pieces, props and projections at a fraction of the cost of the original.  It continues to be one of my most cherished operatic memories.  It was fantastic and it goes to show that it is possible to be creative and clever and inventive and not have to spend 6 million dollars to do it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

St. Louis Opera Theater - Eugene Onegin

One can never have enough opera and with Meistersinger and Marriage just a bit before we went to our last opera of the summer (alas) again to St. Louis Opera Theater's last performance of the season to see Tchaikowsky's "Eugene Onegin."  And it was wonderful.  I loved it.  We had gone to see their "Marriage of Figaro" and while musically it was a wonderful performance there was a lot of weirdness on stage that made no sense, to me at least.  But not here.  The staging was straight forward, faithful to the score and the libretto.  It reminded me a little of the Met production, but the key to the production were these movable walls in the back that could be put into a variety of configurations and they were used to great effect.

The orchestra was, as usual, very good.  Barbara Orland nailed every one of those low C#'s and played very beautifully throughout on 1st oboe and Tod Bowermaster played especially beautifully on 1st horn.  Also (and in Tchaikowsky this is important) the strings were sensational.  Conductor David Agler managed the performance very well.  Never did there appear to be coordination problems and on the whole the balance was good.

For me though, the star(s) of the evening were the chorus, which are made up of the Young Artist apprentices.  I loved the sound they made.  Chorusmaster Sandra Horst deserves much applause for her wonderful work with these young voices.  As a former chorusmaster I know how hard it is to get solo voices to blend into a unified choral sound.  One wants to allow the singers to sing out and be comfortable, but a group of soloists sometimes don't make a very good chorus.  Not so here.  The chorus was great!  My only quibble is that some of them need, perhaps to take some acting classes.  Nevertheless, I loved the sound of the chorus in this production.

The cast was excellent.  I was smitten with Sean Panikkar, who played Lensky.  What a beautiful voice and what a fine actor.  He made a likeable, affable, if immature Lensky and his death scene was exceptionally poignant - as it should be.  I am anxious to follow this singer.  I think he has a wonderful career ahead.  I also loved Christopher Magiera as Onegin - a fine actor and a beautiful voice.  Dina Kuznetsova did a beautiful job a Tatiana.  I enjoyed Andrew Drost as Trinquet and Oren Gradus as Gremin was, I suspect, luxury casting.  Oren Gradus is one of the finest basses working today and he was mesmerizing for the brief time he was on stage.  All of the smaller roles were sung and acted very well.

I didn't mind the English language translation as much for Onegin as I did for Marriage of Figaro.  Perhaps it is because I know no Russian at all.  I still object to this policy of this company.  I want to see their Pelleas next season, but I know I will have a difficult time getting past the fact they will be singing this in English instead of French.  (Thank you for allowing Triquet to sing in French during Onegin though!)  As I continue to live in this area I suspect this will be the primary reason that I will absent myself from performances of St. Louis Opera Theater.  Well, that and the terribly uncomfortable seats (see my Figaro comments).  It was fine for Onegin, barely fine for Figaro.  Pelleas and Fille du Regiment - in English - groan!  Not to mention Traviata or Boheme or Aida or Rigoletto or (can you imagine) Rheingold! and on and on - in English!  This is heresy!  I will not go to those productions if they are going to sing in English.  Besides, the policy makes no sense.  You can't understand the English anyway coming out of the mouths of the singers and so you are reading the supertitles.  So what difference does it make?  Except the artistic difference which favors the original language.

Anyway, I loved Onegin.  It was a beautiful performance of a beautiful opera!  We all need more Tchaikowsky in our lives.

Here's the Met doing the Onegin Waltz: Eugene Onegin