Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunday at the Opera - Rigoletto from Stuttgart - Opera Platform

Opera Platform's newest addition to their operas available for streaming is the Opera Stuttgart Rigoletto. I just finished it and first of all I want to say this is IMHO one of the best sung Rigoletto's I have heard in a long time. The young baritone Tito You is terrific as Rigoletto, but he is not alone the rest of the cast is excellent. Atalla Ayan sings a great Duke and Mirella Bunoica is a very tomboyish Gilda. Liang Li is wonderfully sonorous as Sparafucile and the biggest surprise of the performance is the outstanding Monterone of Roland Bracht. The Maddalena of Stine Marie Fischer was very well sung, but I found her characterization to be the most confusing of the production. What was her attitude towards the Duke? She didn't seem to like him at all, but yet she talks her brother into saving his life - why? The chorus was excellent and completely perverse and the entire performance was conducted by Guiliano Carella who paced a quick performance of this opera - in fact at times he almost left his singers in the dust, but they all managed to pull it off ok.  

The production by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito is an interesting combination of traditional and Regie elements. Frankly, I'm not sure I completely understand the concept. But even so I enjoyed the performance very much. The production had me scratching my head at times but it never obscured the magnificent singing. There seemed to be an undercurrent of revolution which began with the Italian nationalist revolution (Viva Verdi! - how appropriate) and moved through the French Revolution and then ended up with the Chinese revolution under Mao (Rigoletto's costume in the last scene was a very wrinkled Mao costume). Gilda was played as much more independent and also with much resentment and anger towards her father - I actually really appreciated that, it was refreshing. I personally find Gilda's traditional naivité and victimhood to be rather tireseome. So she was more of a willing participant once she is abducted and seemed quite unhappy to be rescued. The problem with all of this is that the libretto consistently undermined the concept. In this case I almost wish I could have turned off the English titles. I would have enjoyed the production more. The end of the opera is really interesting. Made me think of Shakespeare: "All the world's a stage and the people in it merely players." Anyway, I really did enjoy this production and I hope to see and hear more of Tito You. He is a terrific dramatic baritone.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Washington National Opera - The Ring of the Nieblungs - May 17 through May 22

How does greed and the lust for power impact our world?  We Americans are taught to aspire to success and wealth, which are only nice ways of saying power and greed.  And the result is an ecological crisis that has caused global warming and is endangering our entire planet.  But do we care?  Does it matter?  Do we care about those whose lives are affected by the destruction of our earth?  Do we care that development and economic success and “jobs” seem to be tied inextricably to the destruction of the planet.  I suppose if we replace all that green stuff – you know, trees and plants and grass and such – with impressive malls and high rises then that is progress!  but is it?
These are some of the questions posed by the Washington National Opera’s recent “American” Ring Cycle.  Taking a page out of the Patríce Chéreau playbook, Francesca Zambello set this Ring within industrialized America and creates a completely American cast of characters: Alberich begins as a prospector, Wotan the rich Tycoon, Fasolt and Fafner are working class construction bosses, Loge the fast talking political manipulator and so on.  But it seems to me that the “American” part of this was only a frame for the major focus which are the environmental issues.  We begin this Ring in the Rhine (“In it!” to quote Anna Russell) and it is a beautiful natural setting.  But the theft of the gold and the subsequent curse of the Ring – that is, the lust for power and wealth – slowly destroys (in one way or another) not only every single character in the 4 opera cycle but also ends up destroying the natural environment itself.  The settings in Götterdämmerung consisted of metal, and steel and “progress and development.”  But when we finally re-encounter the River Maidens in act 3 their habitat is now filled with trash and toxic waste and they themselves are dirty and wretched.  The journey of this Zambello Ring is a journey into the consequences of the exploitation of the environment for power, wealth and success.  How ironic it is that those who seek power the most are the ones who are first destroyed by their lust, their wealth turns to dust and their success ends with a spear in the back and an out of control toxic fire.
I have often heard Götterdämmerung described as Wagner’s “tale of the end of the world.”  Wrong!  This final opera is not about the end of the world, rather it is about the end of one age and the beginning of a new age.  Much like other great stories from the King Arthur stories to The Lord of the Rings the end of the Ring brings us a new beginning and a new hope.  While everything is in flames we hear Wagner’s incredible “redemption” motif which I believe we need to interpret without any religious baggage.  So, rather than use a religious term like "redemption" perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this motif is the motif of hope and new beginning.  The first time we hear it Sieglinde sings it in the middle of act 3 of Walküre.  She has lost everything, Siegmund is killed, she is on the run from Wotan and her protector, Brünnhilde, is not going to be able to help her any more.  She has nothing – except – she is pregnant and in that child lay the only strand of hope she can grasp on to.  And she sings this glorious motif before she leaves and heads east into the dark forest where she will be found by the wretched Niebelung Mime who is in his own sick way vigiling near to Fafner’s cave, in hopes of grasping the power and wealth of the Ring for himself.  But in that one moment we feel her hope and it courses through us as she sings.  And then at the end of the cycle we hear this motif again played in counterpoint to the magic fire music, for as the stage burns there is still hope.  And in this production Zambello has only the women on stage as a young girl emerges from the flames to bring forth and plant a tree.  It was a poignant and beautiful moment, and for me reflected the core inner meaning of the Ring Cycle.
Kip Cranna, the dramaturge for this WNO Ring made a very insightful comment in one of his many program articles: “The Ring is said to bestow unlimited power on its possessor.  But does it?”  He then lists all of the casualties and concludes: “Nearly all who possess the Ring, in fact fall victim to its curse.”  I think I sort of knew that, but had never really thought about it before.  But he is right.  And this should give us all pause as we continue to elect politicians who stubbornly (and stupidly) continue to deny the ecological catastrophe that we have created, and who connive with the barons of industry to gut rules and regulations that would protect our water, our parks, our environment and our air.  We will all end up like Fafner or Mime or Siegmund or Sieglinde or Hagen or Gunter or Gutrune or Wotan.  And do notice that the destruction of the Ring is not a respecter of persons, from the most unimportant and wretched to the great head of the gods.  So it is with us. 

It should be clear by now that for me this was not just a great Ring this was an epochal Ring.  I have seen many complete Rings, 4 live and many others on video or online.  All of them have had much to commend them.  The opening scene in Rheingold in the last Chicago Lyric production is still unsurpassed in my view; the projections in the LePage Ring; the Valkure scene from Schenk are all brilliant. But not since Chereau have I experienced a Ring that was so tightly constructed as this one.  Zambello built this adventure so that all the pieces fit together.  In many of the other Rings this is just not the case.  This WNO Ring has a focus and a direction that is unique and, I believe completely consistent with Wagner’s vision.  Musically this Ring was excellent, but so were many of the others, as good as the singers were (and we’ll get to that) this is not what makes this Ring stand out for me.  It is this relentless narrative that she never deviates from which makes this perhaps the most profound Ring I have ever experienced.
But now to the singers: The principals were in many ways among the finest performances of their roles that I have ever experienced.  Alan Held’s Wotan/Wanderer was perhaps the most human interpretation of this role I have seen.  He struggled, he got angry, he truly grieved, and he recognized his own limitations.  I have seen some other incredible Wotans who often play the role with a little more austerity, but Held’s performance joins the group of the finest Wotans and Wanderers who have taken on the roles.  And then there is Nina Stemme who was also incredible.  I loved how she transitioned from the bright Valkure to the wronged woman in the last opera.  Her vocal power and control during Götterdämmerung in particular was tremendous.  And then Daniel Brenna had not only a fresh, bright and powerful tenor as Siegfried but he had the youthful looks and he downplayed the spoiled teenager aspect of the role. He was certainly arrogant, but there was also a depth to his portrayal.  I have to say that Raymond Aceto was perhaps one of the finest Hunding’s I have ever experienced.  He had an aggressive and cruel streak which really made his character come alive.  He truly intimidated poor Siegmund, and Sieglinde was downright terrified and you could see why.  Not only that but his dark, full bass gave this Hunding a really scarey dimension.  Eric Halverson was an appropriately menacing Hagen with a rich and beautiful bass; Gordon Hawkins an effective and well sung Alberich.  And one of my favorite artists – David Cangelosi – gave us a fully realized Mime, terrifically sung and acted.  I had seen him do this role in Chicago, but that was 10 years ago and in the intervening 10 years his interpretation has deepened.
The remaining cast was also excellent all around, from the smaller supporting roles to larger roles the casting was excellent.  Among the stand outs for me: William Burden who was an appropraitely slimy and manipulative Loge; Elizabeth Bishop as Fricka (especially in Walkure); Julian Close as Fasolt and Soloman Howard as Fafner; Lindsay Ammann as Erda, Schwertleide and the First Norn; Meagan Miller as Sieglinde, Christopher Ventris as Siegmund; Melissa Citro as Gutrune; Ryan McKinny as Gunther.  And such luxury casting to have Jamie Barton as the 2nd Norn and Waltraute – she was wonderful!  In fact the Norn scene was one of my favorite scenes in this production.  The Trio was rounded out with Marcy Stonikas as the 3rd Norn.
I have to mention that the conductor Philippe Auguin conducted a well paced score and the orchestra responded, for the most part to his leadership.  The Ring is long, and it is hard for everyone but this performance was not without its difficult moments from the orchestra, particularly the winds.  Intonation seemed to be a struggle consistently throughout the Ring, but it was especially noticeable in the chords at the beginning of the Brünnhilde awakening scene.  There were missed notes in the brass from time to time, but in general the brass were very good; a special bravo to principal horn Geoffrey Pilkington and to principal tubist Michael Bunn.  The tuba solos in Siegfried in particular were exceptionally well played, beautifully shaped, with much color and dynamic range.  I am not sure who played the off stage horn solo in Siegfried, but it was well done.  I should say that the strings were terrific throughout.  Whatever problems there were in the winds and brasses did not seem to extend to the strings who shone wonderfully throughout.  I have to say I found it odd that there seemed to be a fair amount of coming and going in and out of the pit.  And it wasn’t just players who were going backstage.  Also, I personally feel (after 30 years as a professional orchestral musician myself) that practicing excerpts during the break and doing crosswords or reading in the clear view of the audience during the performance is completely unprofessional.  And yes, this happened, but I won’t name names.
Lastly, I have to say that in all the Rings I have seen one of the things that interests me is to see how the dragon will be depicted.  Spreight Jenkins said in an interview once that the dragon was one thing that he often got complaints about.  In too many Ring productions the dragon is a major disappointment.  I suppose that in these days of CGI and “The Hobbit’s” Smaug it is hard to produce anything quite that convincing on stage.  But of all the dragons I have experienced I loved this WNO dragon.  It was done in a way that was in keeping with the vision of the production and it was very effective. 

Finally, I am so glad to have had the chance to attend this Ring. It was an experience and an adventure of a lifetime for me.  Certainly this is one of the most thought-provoking and consistent productions I have ever seen.  I hope that this production continues to have a life beyond this presentation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Still catching up - Bavarian State Opera "South Pole" and Opera Platform's "Manon Lescaut"

South Pole – Bavarian State Opera – Miroslav Snrka and Tom Holloway
What a curious subject for an opera, but what a terrific opera it is! Running at around two hours this performance was spell-binding!  chronicling the race to the South Pole by two teams: a British team lead by Robert Falcon Scott and a Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundson.  Ultimately Amundson arrived at the Pole first and Scott and his team died on his return trip. This is a matter of the historical record.  The opera captures the competition by placing the two teams opposite each other on the either side of the stage.  The cast is led by Thomas Hampson (Amundson) and Rolando Villazón (Scott).  They were both excellent, they both gave incredible performances both vocally and in their characterizations. Their supporting casts were also excellent. Amundson in particular seemed to have to deal with a fair amount of conflict and insubordination, this was captured and performed very well by the supporting cast.  On the other side, the death of the British team was heart-wrenching as they died one by one.  Rounding out the cast were Tara Erraught and Mojca Eerdman as the wives of Scott and Amundson.  These were fantasy conversations but did break up the intense winter trek and I felt was very effective.  The music is by Miroslav Snrka and the Bavarian State Opera website describes his compositional process some and it is pretty fascinating.  I have to say I did not pick up most of what is described, nevertheless I felt that the score was terrific.  Very powerful and moving. Finally the orchestra was terrific and hats off to the Berlin Philharmonic’s new conductor in waiting: Kirill Petrenko!

Sunday at the Opera – Latvian National Opera – Manon Lescaut – Opera Platform
Manon Lescaut is, in my view, a troubled opera.  The music is gorgeous and this is the primary reason it is performed I think, but the plot is troubled.  For example, there is a major cut in the action between the first two acts.  In the book there is a lot that happens between the meeting of Manon and Des Grieux in Amiens and when they find each other again after their torrid affair, his kidnapping by his father, his starting his work as a seminary student and so on.  The original story really is filled with narrative between Puccini’s acts 1 and 2 and even Massenet’s version includes much of what is cut – enough at least to make the narrative make sense. But not in Puccini! The two lovers run off, Geronte is mad but is assured by Lescaut that his sister will soon tire of the poor student.  Then the curtain goes up on act 2 and Manon is ensconced with Geronte.
I suppose it was this major break in the plot that led the director of this Latvian National Opera production to make Des Grieux in a priest in act 1.  It is the only reason I can think of because this device worked so incredibly poorly that it was the only rational explanation for such a completely illogical twist.  So, now in this production act 1 (still in Amiens) is a wedding.  Edmondo is the groom, and the bride is a super. The assembly is the wedding reception. The entire opera begins with Father Des Grieux blessing the couple in his role as the priest.  Everyone is a wedding guest. Of course this makes no sense.  No one seems to like Geronte so why would he have been invited in the first place and besides he seems to have a thing for the bride too.  One very interesting aspect of it all is that the bride is played as deaf and she communicates with everyone using sign language.  It is she who overhears Geronte’s plans to abduct Manon and then with sign language she tells Edmondo who then spills the beans to Des Grieux.  But wait.  Des Grieux is a priest.  He is supposed to be celibate.  All the banter about finding a girlfriend and finding love is wholly and completely inappropriate and out of place.  Even his behavior at this party is completely out of line for a priest – and this is now moved into the 20th century BTW.  Manon is some kind of friend of the bride.  Which again is a disconnect as Manon is supposed to be around 16 and the bride here was about 10 years older.  In short, the entire first act made no sense to me.
The rest of the opera also made no sense.  There was no boat in act 3 and I really have no idea where they were in act 4.  Act 2 is set in Geronte’s palace, but so many of the usual elements were missing that it just all didn’t make any sense at all.  I felt that on the whole the production is really, really poor.  I have no problem with updating and even reimagined Regie productions.  But there has to be some kind of inner logic.  It can’t be so far removed that the libretto and the stage action are completely at cross purposes.  This might need to happen occasionally but the best Regietheater productions are the ones where it is kept to a minimum and even completely reimagined the libretto and staging fit together, to some degree.  This was decidedly not the case with this production.
It is too bad that the production is so troubled as Asmik Grigorian again is magnificent.  She is fully engaged and invested in the production and in her role, and she signs like an angel.  I find her completely captivating and she is probably the reason I stayed with this performance until the end.  Her last act aria was gorgeous, despite the weirdness of the staging.  I liked the tenor Sergei Poliakov, and he was an effective actor.  Baritone Janis Apeinis was terrific as Lescaut but the Geronte was not up to the level of the rest of the cast and was quite a disappointment.

But Asmik again stole the show.  Her performances of Violetta and Tatiana, also on Opera Platform, are her best work.  For all of her vocal glory, the production is not worth watching.  Check her out in Onegin, and I hope we see her in the USA soon.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Catch up – a couple weeks of opera…

     It has been a couple weeks but I have still been able to view several great productions during this time.  I will make some brief remarks about several of the performances I have watched.

ROH – Boris Godunov – This production I got to see on the big screen in St. Louis.  It starred Bryn Terfel as Boris and was conducted by Tony Pappano.  I am not that familiar with Boris.  I have seen it several times and I have enjoyed it.  But it is usually long and rather epic.  As a result it has never felt like it hung together well.  The individual scenes are terrific, but the transitions seemed troubled – to me – and I am no expert.  However, this production at the Royal Opera House used Mussorgsky’s original version that reduced the opera to a 2+ hour piece in 7 scenes.  It was much more concise and for me it was a completely different experience.  No longer was this an epic story of Mother Russia, but rather a work that focused on the rise and fall of one troubled man.  It felt to me much more Shakespearean – reminding me of the great tragic character of Macbeth as the guilt and pressures of his position started to destroy this monarch.  Terfel was simply terrific.  I have always liked him but he is often better in some things than in others.  But as Boris in this version and this production he is simply outstanding.  I was riveted by his performance.  And the supporting cast was also equally outstanding.  Leading this group is the magnificent John Tomlinson as the Old Monk.  (Digression: A while ago I found a YouTube video of “Siegfried” that starred Tomlinson as the Wanderer.  And this performance for me was the most outstanding performance of that role I have ever experienced – which is saying something as I have seen James Morris live and consider him to be among the best Wotan’s ever.  But nothing compares with the opening of act 3 in the ROH production which Tomlinson’s Wotan found himself spinning on a world that he could no longer control.  I can’t even describe it.  It was simply amazing.)  But I digress – in this Boris, Tomlinson’s Old Monk was gorgeously sung and deftly acted.  It was a powerful performance.  He is easily one of my all time favorite artists.
     Then there is the rest of the cast – whose names flipped by way too fast for me to take down.  But they were excellent.  From the young tenor with a beautiful voice as the Young Dmitri, to a terrific character tenor giving us a magnificently slimy Shuisky, to the drunk Monk in the bar who simply stole the scene from everyone else during the tavern scene, to the terrifying fool whose condemnation of Boris pushes him over the edge.  And then there is the outstanding chorus and orchestra.  I would buy this DVD – it is a terrific performance of a terrific production.

ROH – Lucia di Lammermoor – This production has received quite a lot of press.  In fact the ROH sent a warning to all ticket holders warning them that this production by Katie Mitchell would probably earn an X rating for violence if it were a film.  And after having seen it I absolutely concur.  This production does not shy away from the extreme violence of the original story.  On one hand this is actually refreshing.  It was nice to see a Lucia that accepted and presented the violence of the story which too often is only hinted at. On the other hand, the violence was excessive to the point where I felt Mitchell crossed the line.  I found myself (especially in the last scene) wondering if all that gore was really necessary and in a couple cases I really don’t think it was.
     So, to understand this production one first needs to understand that the stage is split into two different locations – we open up with the outside garden on one side and a sitting room on the other; then Lucia’s bedroom and a bathroom; then Lucia’s bedroom and the men’s smoking room, etc.  And there is continuous action in both sections of the set.  For example, as poor Lucia is being forced to sign the marriage contract in the smoking room surrounded by all the men (how brilliantly intimidating), at the same time in Lucia’s bedroom Edgardo is climbing through the window ready to crash the party.  It mostly worked very well, though at times it was almost too much action and was distracting from the music.  And in the filmed version, of course, we can only watch what the film director chooses to film.  So this entire experience is probably quite different live in the house.
     But for most of the opera I thought it worked well.  It was engaging and certainly interesting.  But there are moments which pushed the boundary and at the top of my list is the very last scene that I felt simply did not work.  First of all, it was the only time where I felt that the action on the stage did not fit with the libretto.  (Spoiler alert) – The men enter and tell Edgardo that Lucia is dead, except here in the this production she isn’t dead because she is in the bathroom in the process of committing suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. The drawn out suicides of first Lucia and then Edgardo were simply too excessively violent for me.  I just had had enough of all the blood by the end of the mad scene and it just got worse.  Really, is all that much blood necessary?  The other scene that at least came close to crossing the line was the Wolf’s Glen scene, which I normally really like, but the music and singing were almost rendered irrelevant as it took Lucia and her maid Alisa the entire scene to dispatch Arturo – he did not die easily.
     And that brings up some other stuff.  What is with the bondage play?  Whose idea was that – did Lucia suggest to Arturo that “wouldn’t it be fun if you let me tie you up on our wedding night – after the big confrontation with Edgardo?”  I mean really?  And then the murder takes so long and it is drawn out.  And would a poor ladies maid really be willing to risk being hung in order to participate in the murder like she did here?  Ok, so she is loyal, but really, how far does loyalty go?  I didn’t even feel that I understood the reason for the murder.  In this production Lucia is in such full control of her senses that the murder of Arturo seemed ridiculously illogical and it is pre-mediated and it is violent. The usual approach is that Lucia looses her mind sometime during the consummation and manages to kill Arturo all by herself (which also, frankly, seems a bit far-fetched – unless he was so drunk he fell asleep – well, it is opera, one should not over-think these things I suppose.) Still, it seemed a bit just too excessive.
     Nevertheless, I found the production rather riveting. At times, I didn’t want to watch, but I couldn’t help myself.  Part of the idea was to present a slightly older and more empowered Lucia.  And in this I feel that Mitchell only succeeded in part.  The pre-meditation of the murder of Arturo undermined this for me.  I also didn’t really get the doppelganger ghost for Lucia.  I understood the mother’s ghost but not the other one.  She didn’t make any sense to me, especially since Mitchell downplayed the “madness” and was trying to present a more empowered Lucia, so then what’s up with the ghosts?  On the other hand, I did like the depiction of the Rev. Raimondo very much.  I find in many productions that he is almost insufferable and he is such a lousy minister.  Here he seems a little more lost and struggling to react appropriately, which I preferred to the usual Raimondo as accomplice or dupe for Enrico.  I also really appreciated that he was not dressed as a Catholic priest, and that he did not do any Catholic gestures. The fact is that Raimondo is a Presbyterian so Catholicizing him is inappropriate.  But it seems like a lot of director don’t understand that.
     Rachel Lloyd was absolutely stunning as Alisa.  She has little sing (but sang it all beautifully) but she was on stage a lot and had a lot to do.  She was terrific, even if I feel that Alisa’s participation in the murder was a step too far to be believable.  I really liked the Normano also.  And I liked the way Mitchell used him throughout the opera, even when his singing part was technically over.
     The other principals were outstanding.  Diana Damrau’s performance as Lucia was a tour de force; a truly amazing performance in every way.  Her mad scene was probably the best I have ever heard.  Such control and delicacy!  And her interaction with the glass harmonica was simply stunning. The Edgardo of Charles Castronovo was also outstanding.  His was perhaps the most unsympathetic Edgardo I can remember seeing.  One had the sense that he wasn’t that much of an improvement over Lucia’s miserable brother.  This Edgardo was self-absorbed and had a cruel streak.  The Enrico of Ludovic Tezier was also very well sung.  I feel as though there was something missing in his acting though, but maybe Mitchell had him tone down the usual “villain” approach to the role.
    This review has wandered a bit.  In short, I really liked the production, but feel that it still needs work.  And there is just too much gratuitous violence and blood. 

Vienna – Ballo – This Ballo is perhaps one of the most traditional productions of this opera I have ever seen.  The sets and costumes were sumptuous.  The cast did little to no acting – stand and sing was the order of the day, especially for the chorus.  I found it all rather tedious as a spectacle. I did however enjoy the singers, especially Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Renato and Piotr Bezcala as Riccardo.  I also liked the Amelia quite a lot as well.  But maybe at this point with all the productions I have seen I am just finding these traditional productions to be boring.  This one certainly was.

Paris – Iolanta/Nutcracker – These two works by Tchaikovsky were premiered together originally and so Paris has paired them again and the production is directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Now I know Nutcracker very, very well, as I have played in the orchestra for many performances.  Iolanta I know not nearly as well having only seen it once before in the HD broadcast with Anna Netrebko and Beczala from the Met a year ago or so.  Still I was struck with the musical similarities of the respective scores.  They really do work well together, though it makes for a long evening.  The production of Iolanta was really nice.  It was a kind production.  In other words, Iolanta is treated kindly by everyone in the cast (even if her dad is a bit to protective.)  I mention this only because in the Met production there was a meanness that characterized how some of the cast related to Iolanta.  I liked this production better, frankly.
     Nutcracker began immediately upon the conclusion of the opera – and I mean immediately.  In fact the music of the overture was used for quasi-curtain calls and applause for the singers who were replaced by their dancing doubles.  And we begin in the same location with the same characters as the opera. And from there we fall into a series of fantasies, some of which are rather terrifying.  I found it all rather engaging, but at the end of the day, I just did not understand what Nutcracker was supposed to be about. It just seemed to drift far afield.  Now, I don’t mind that there was little resemblance to the original story or even that act 2 had a number of surprising cuts.  But I just never could figure out where we were and what we were experiencing.  Still the performances were excellent.  Sonja Yoncheva as Iolanta was gorgeous in every way, especially vocally.  The King Rene was also outstanding.  In fact all of the cast was very strong.  And the dancing principals were wonderful – especially the Iolanta double (Clara?) – who actually ends up with much more stage time than the singing Iolanta.
     It was really a fascinating production and I am glad I saw it.  It would be worth watching again to see if I could pick up more hints about what the director was trying to say.