Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Opera Orchestra of New York's Rienzi

I went to see the Opera Orchestra of New York's concert performance of Rienzi and I wrote about it for Bachtrack:
Early works by major composers can be fascinating. We try to see in them premonitions of the greatness to come, or hope they will cast light on a more familiar later work. The Opera Orchestra of New York’s concert presentation of Rienzi, Richard Wagner’s third opera, was fairly useless in this regard: most of Rienzi sounds nothing like mature Wagner. But it justifies itself on its own merits, a grand opera of impressive effect and achievement. This scrappy but exciting performance sometimes rose to the occasion.
You can read the full review here. I put in a fair amount of background because a) this is an unusual piece and I think it helps to know where it's coming from and b) the program didn't provide a single bit of notes, not even a synopsis. Other than the work itself the discovery of the afternoon was mezzo Géraldine Chauvet. She sounded a little overparted and strained at a few of the climaxes but it was a super performance. As Irene Elisabete Matos walked the line between old style divatude and a parody of old style divatude, often not quite having the voice to back up her bravado. Ian Storey had a rough time of it as Rienzi, no better than his gargled Énée of a year ago. But I'm glad I went!

I am very busy at work currently and probably won't make it to many live performances in February, but I hope to have some other things to write about.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Met’s Götterdämmerung: This is how the world ends

If nothing else, I thought, Robert Lepage will know how to make things blow up real good. But the end of his Götterdämmerung last night just sort of fizzled out. Some flames and water were projected onto the now familiar planks, some wee statues crumbled. It was--complete with the misplaced hope that this had been a technical failure in lieu of a more spectacular effect, which it was not--an inglorious but apt ending to a project that always promised something more interesting than it delivered. Musically, things were much better, but the Ring reduced to literalism is a Ring enfeebled.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

City Opera: Stuff White People Like?

The downward spiral of New York City Opera is depressing. But if their planned spring season does go forward (currently it looks like it will), it will begin with La traviata at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in February. They are promoting the production with this image.
Soprano Laquita Mitchell will be singing Violetta. There's not a lot on YouTube of her singing opera rep, but based on this standard she's got a voice and is a heartfelt singer:

But it's obvious that she's not a blond white lady. Can we talk about this for a minute? You can protest that they don't have enough money to get a different poster model for this one opera. (The mysterious blonde pictured above is seen throughout their publicity materials.) Or perhaps they assembled the publicity images before their casting was complete. Since the company has become a shoestring operation this is even likely. But the result still makes me really uncomfortable.

Black Violettas are rare. I suspect this is because of the limited roles which society has allotted to women of color. Melissa Harris-Perry talked about this racism just last week on the Colbert Report. (She was promoting her book on this very topic.) Violetta's angelic femininity does not figure in the stereotypes Harris-Perry describes. But black ladies should be just as able to be beautiful and virtuous dying courtesans in operas as white ladies! It's great that Laquita Mitchell is defying tradition and will be singing Violetta at City Opera, and they should recognize this and put a woman of color on their poster, even if it's not Mitchell herself.

Also, African-Americans are woefully underrepresented in classical music both onstage and in audiences. Writing the black lady out of the publicity materials isn't a way to convince the African-Americans who think opera isn't for them to change their minds. Look at how much Broadway has diversified in the last few years as producers have discovered how to reach more African-Americans. Maybe it's time for classical music to figure out how to do the same.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

La fille du régiment marches again

Laurent Pelly’s whimsical production of Donizetti’s fluffy La fille du régiment is impossible to dislike. I unexpectedly went to the last performance of its current Met run last night and was again charmed. The plot of an army mascot in love and her many protective parents (both the entire regiment and her newly-rediscovered blood relations) is sweet, the music is bouncy and tuneful, and the characters are so good-hearted and adorable that they remain likeable through the heavy layer of schtick conferred by Pelly’s production. When I saw the premiere cast in 2008, I found the show a little on the slick side (here is my review from back when I was a baby blogger), but this time I think it’s a winner through and through. The choreography keeps things cute and fast-paced, and the gags work, but Pelly never forgets to use them to define the characters first--when the haughty Marquise de Berkenfield thinks the praying peasants are saluting her, or when Marie bounces onstage wearing suspenders. The set of maps is vaguely representational and fills the stage, everyone dances periodically, and the soldiers are the most harmless lot you’ve ever seen. Lord knows what war figures in this slightly updated production, but does anyone really care?

Unlike the premiere's Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez, the current cast doesn't have the slightly empty look of people who have rehearsed very, very well, and they are a little more sincere. That's a gain, but unfortunately the same star power just isn't there. Nino Machaidze sang serviceably, but her laser-bright tone was unvaryingly loud and she lacks the agility to make the coloratura sparkle rather than just come out. Her Marie doesn’t have the quicksilver gamine quality of Dessay, but her more forceful, brassy acting worked well too. If only her spoken dialogue had resembled French.* Lawrence Brownlee made a suitably adorable and boyish Tonio and his warm and round sound has more appeal than Juan Diego Flórez’s, though he lacks some of the latter’s charisma--his final entrance on a tank in particular just didn’t have that incredible sense of ridiculous triumph. I’ve never really understood the appeal of the famous string of high C’s in “Pour mon âme” (when it comes to extreme tenoring, give me a good “Vittoria!” any day**), but Brownlee dispatched them with élan. Elsewhere, Ann Murray was hilarious as the Marquise of Berkenfeld, though her voice is showing its age and is very uneven. Maurizio Muraro was an amiable Suplice. Kiri Te Kanawa displayed her underrated comic skills as the Duchess of Krakentorp and still sounded like herself in an aria from “Le villi”. I missed Marian Seldes’s “he’s on the bobsled team!” line, though.

The orchestra and Yves Abel got off to a rough start in the overture, with a lone violinist coming in smack in the middle of a dramatic pause and some other coordination issues, but the rest proceeded smoothly enough.

Between this and today’s webcast of L’elisir d’amore from Munich (in David Bösch’s surprisingly poignant production), it’s the Weekend of Adorable Donizetti, apparently.

*However I do recommend her Lobiani recipe in Die Oper kocht. It is excellent.
**After writing this I went back and looked at my review of the premiere cast and I said just about the exact same thing. At least I'm consistent!
Donizetti, La fille du régiment. Metropolitan Opera, 1/6/2012. Production by Laurent Pelly (revival), conducted by Yves Abel with Nino Machaidze (Marie), Lawrence Brownlee (Tonio), Ann Murray (Marquise of Berkenfield), Maurizio Muraro (Sulpice), Kiri Te Kanawa (Duchess of Krakentorp)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Enchanted Island: No man or woman is a...

 Contrary to anything you may have read, the Met’s The Enchanted Island pasticcio does not feature a cameo by a wisecracking René Pape as the Skipper.* But it’s got just about everything else. Everything, that is, except a reason for us to care. An all-star cast belts out top Baroque tunes in a beautifully designed production, but thanks to Jeremy Sams’s insipid, self-indulgent libretto, most of it ends up being much ado about nothing. Why can’t we have actual Baroque opera instead?