Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!!!

I wish everyone a blessed 2010. Here is the ultimate New Year's eve opera clip - from Fledermaus:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas – See below for a couple favorite Christmas themed opera clips….

Il Trovatore – Live from Barcelona
But first – Il Trovatore from Barcelona!  Last Tuesday we went to St. Louis to the movie theatre to see a live feed of Il Trovatore from the Grand Theatre del Liceu.  The production was conducted by Marco Armiliato and I thought he was excellent.  The cast was pretty much unknown to me, except for Paata Burchuladze who sang Ferrando.  The rest of the cast included Fiorenza Cedolins as Leonora, Marco Berti as Manrico, Vittorio Vitelli as DiLuna and Luciana D’Intino as Azucena.  For the most part musically the cast was good.  The standouts – for me – were Azucena, Manrico and Ferrando.  I particularly liked Azucena, but Manrico nailed Di Quella Pira and provided some of the most thrilling musical moments of the production.  I also really enjoyed the last Act, musically.  This is partly because some of my favorite music from the opera is here – but it was also well done.  The scene with the off-stage monks chorus with Leonora and Manrico is masterful and beautiful and it was well perfomed by all.  Also the prison scene was also beautifully performed.

I had really looked forward to seeing this because I have heard a great deal about Liceu and was anxious to see and hear this opera from that theater.  Musically it was satisfying, but in every other aspect it was a real disappointment.  First the production – or I should say the non-production.  What was that?  There was essentially no acting, no sets, no costumes (really).  There was nothing to this production except some fancy painted backdrops in red or blue and then the wooden box for the prison.  This production was a concert opera.  They might as well have had the orchestra on stage with the singers, it would have been more interesting to watch, that is for sure.  Azucena was the only member of the cast who really made any effort towards acting.  Ferrando was ok, but in his case he had no one or nothing to work off of.  The chorus might have been placed on risers.  They did nothing.  They sounded great, but they marched on stood on stage, sang and then marched off.; any stage “business” for the chorus (like the anvil thing or the dice game) was handled by a couple dancers.  The anvil chorus was particularly disappointing.

And among the non acting, perhaps the weakest in this regard was DiLuna.  He was never credible as the villain.  I got the impression that he is probably a really nice guy in real life, because that is the way he came off.  Why would Leonora turn him down?  He is cute and nice.  And why didn’t he just run off with Inez and save himself all the trouble.  OK – the plot has problems, but in order for Trovatore to have any chance of working the DiLuna has to be the bad guy, and the audience has to believe he is the bad guy.  It didn’t work here.  He should take some lessons from Marius Kwieken whose Enrico, Live from the Met, was the most chillingly evil Enrico I have ever seen. Vocally I warmed up to DiLuna the longer it continued.  By the last act he had come into his own and put in a brilliant vocal performance.  Il balen  however, I felt was shaky and a little out of tune.

But the problems with the production were with the direction, or lack there of.  A word about costumes: in general there didn’t seem to be costumes.  Except for these strange soldier outfits which made the chorus look like storm troopers from Star Wars – in blue and red.  When the chorus made their entrance in the first act members of the audience laughed out loud.  And the women had no costumes at all – just long dresses.  It looked to me like Azucena just wore her concert black dress.

This production was not worth $22.  But this is not the end of the difficulties.  There were no sub-titles until the middle of Act II.  I didn’t need them, but if you don’t know Trovatore well you absolutely need sub-titles for Act I, Scene I or you will never be able to pick up the ins and outs of the complex off the wall plot.  And why did Leonora’s audio keep disappearing from the broadcast.  During trio that closes the 2nd scene of Act I it became a duet because you could not hear Leonora.  This was not her fault.  It was a technical problem of some sort since you could hear her echo.

Finally, my last comments are directed at my fellow audience members.  Look folks, we are at the opera.  I know it feels like we are at a movie, but it is not a movie, it is the opera.  This means that it is not cool to talk loudly, make comments and be generally rude.  It also means that it is not ok to chomp on your popcorn really loud.  Overall Tuesday at the opera was pretty disappointing.

The Met Hoffman.  Unfortunately I missed this.  I had to work on Saturday and I will also miss the encore as it falls on the Feast of the Epiphany – what lousy planning!  I have registered my unhappiness with the Met that the encore schedule is horrid – for me.  I much preferred the Sunday afternoon encore performance.  So, I will have to wait until it is released on the online Met Player.  I did hear parts of it on the radio and it sounded fantastic.  I heard Olympia’s aria and the last part of Act III and the Epilogue.  All of it sounded fantastic.  I loved Joseph Caleja’s voice and will look forward to seeing the whole thing sometime in the future.

Finally enjoy these Christmas clips – Merry Christmas…..

This is the finale from Act II of Boheme, which takes place on Christmas Eve.  This is a fine performance from La Scala – the Zefferelli production with Hei-Kyung Hong as Musetta.

I had thought of putting up a clip of the finale to Massenet’s “Werther” since it also takes place on Christmas Eve and there is this cool off stage children’s chorus Christmas celebration that happens right at the end.  But what is happening on stage is sooo depressing.  I thought perhaps it might be nicer to share this lovely moment from Hansel and Gretel.

The Evening Prayer from Humperdink’s Hansel und Gretel with Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Stade with Andre Previn conducting.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More "Carmen" - this time from La Scala

I had the opportunity to attend the La Scala, Milan performance of “Carmen” last Monday. This was a live broadcast similar to the Met HD broadcasts. Amazingly I have to say that the transmission and movie experience was overall much better than the Met broadcasts. I don’t know why that should be, but the Met broadcasts seem to be constantly plagued by sunspot outages. The theater we were at on Monday also seemed to have a much better sense of how to set the sound. I love the Met broadcasts, but the broadcast problems can be very frustrating, so it was nice to get through an entire performance with no broadcast problems.

The performance was overall very good. I thought the singing was excellent. Jonas Kaufmann was an outstanding Don Jose and I really liked Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen. The rest of the cast was outstanding – special mention to Escamillo – Erwin Schrott. His cocky, arrogant, self-assured Escamillo, not to mention his powerful beautiful voice, made every one of his scenes sparkle. Daniel Baremboim conducted and the tempos seemed slow to me at times, but on the other hand the orchestra played brilliantly. I know I have a soft spot for woodwinds – but the La Scala orchestra woodwind section was top notch. I loved their musical and colorful playing.

I wish I could say that the staging was equally brilliant, but I found some of it very perplexing. Now, I had just seen the Frankfurt “Carmen” which I found really off the wall. This production was much more faithful to the score. But even so there were some odd things. First the positive: I loved Jonas Kaufmann’s na├»ve, small town boy overwhelmed by events approach to Don Jose. I also liked Rolando Villazon’s psychotic Don Jose (Frankfurt). Both approaches worked for me. I guess the Villazon approach makes more sense of the final murder, but Kaufmann was an effective Jose. I loved Carmen. She was very sexy and erotic, without it being forced or over the top. Her 2nd act scene with Jose was a highlight for me of her performance. I could feel the struggle that Jose had trying to force himself to get away from this woman – unfortunately for him he fails.

Another highlight of this production – the knife fight. Escamillo was magnificent. I loved his cocky arrogance. Heck – this guy makes his living fighting like this – of course he was going to kick Jose’s butt. The only way Jose could possibly win is by cheating. The fight as a whole was choreographed almost like a bull fight – but not as blatent as Frankfurt’s finale (which I thought was silly). In the La Scala production Escamillo just uses his skill as a bull fighter and Jose doesn’t stand a chance. It was great. I loved this scene and I loved this singer. I want to hear more of him.

The chorus was great. Some of the dancer/extra stage business worked well. The cigarette girl break is an example, and all of the big chorus moments were stunning. The smugglers were a bit Abbott and Costello, but it was ok. I liked Zuniga very much vocally as well, though he was a little too nice. The Frankfurt Zuniga had a cruel streak which I thought worked pretty better. Let’s face it Zuniga is not a good guy.

Now the weirdness. I suppose you, faithful readers, have noticed that I have not yet mentioned the Michaela. The role was sung by Adriana Damato. Vocally she was good. But unfortunately most of the production weirdness was centered around Michaela, which totally distracted away from her singing. During the 1st act duet her black dress turned into a wedding dress and she mimed-fantasized getting married. And in Act III as she delivered her message to Jose she morphed into the dying mother, complete with oversized bedspread and pillow. It was odd. Also, what was up with the non-singing little boys who were running all over the place in their underwear during the children’s chorus. Also, I did not get the plastic body parts which were in abundance during the opening of Act IV.

On the whole I enjoyed the production, I loved the singing. It was a great day at the opera. One last comment. I know that La Scala is famous for booing and, not surprising, there were plenty of boos for the production team. I thought that was uncalled for. Maybe these booers should find a video of the Frankfurt “Carmen” and compare and then be thankful. Yes there were some odd moments, but on the whole it was a good production. Let us not forget that as good an actor as the cast may be individually, it is the stage director who shapes their role interpretation and the cast interaction and in that area she did a great job. Finally, an extra bravo to Daniel Baremboim for being a professional and all around good guy for his support of the stage director during the curtain calls.

Here is a clip from the 1991 Covet Garden "Carmen" starring Maria Ewing. This is very traditional.

Here is Erwin Schrott singing "Aprite un po' quegli occhi" from Nozze di Figaro - Covent Garden, Feb. 2006