Author Archives: dehggial
Schade looks like an aging ’70s porn star in the COC production 😀
It was a matter of time until this reached the opera world (though it appears the time was very long indeed and the Met is likely not to come off too well for doing nothing about it until now). I wonder what else will come out and about whom…
- Right and Left = from the audience’s viewpoint.
- Low to moderate prices = between £13 and £50
This is all based on my experience but I thought it might give a ROH newbie a bit of an idea about what to expect. I’ve sampled the following:
(right; JPYA 2014)
- lots of leg room
- excellent view of the action, possibly obstructed by taller people
(Figaro, Semiramide (left) and Ariadne (right))
- some sound muffling
- excellent view near the action, minus the blocked corner
- if you sit on the sides, you have your own surtitle board (or you can sneak a peak at the front row’s), as you can’t see the main one
- folding chair for a steep price
- good view
(right; many times)
- good to very good sound
- good view of the stage and orchestra, close to action
- leaning a must but the entire row does it (your arms will start hurting sooner or later)
- directors love that corner so you might miss some of the action
- very cheap (£9-£10 – perhaps not so cheap anymore, still under £20)
- high view point but good view, you can also peep behind the stage design
- bench with thin cushion
- very hot in the Summer, I couldn’t cope and had to leave
- good to excellent sound
- cheap to moderate prices (except for star studded productions)
- good to excellent view the higher you go (the highest I’ve been was row L); first row has view partially blocked by the railing unless you’re tall; second row has view partially blocked by people leaning in the front row; opera glasses recommended for catching facial expressions
- no leg room
- limited buttroom (you will end up very well acquainted with your neighbours on all sides but they tend to be a congenial bunch)
- can be hot in the Summer but not terribly so
ROH hasn’t seen Semiramide staged in over 100 years but it’s good they did it now, when they have a Rossini-appreciative conductor in the house and such an exceptional team of Rossinians to sing it. It’s the most expensive production of the season but it’s definitely worth it musically. Dramatically I guess I’m not an Alden fan but it’s not a stupid staging either. I just thought more (or prettier) could’ve been done to match the singers’ skills and commitment to the drama.
Semiramide: Joyce DiDonato
Arsace: Daniela Barcellona
Assur: Michele Pertusi
Idreno: Lawrence Brownlee
Oroe: Bálint Szabó
Azema: Jacquelyn Stucker
Mitrane: Konu Kim
Nino’s Ghost: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Royal Opera House Choir and Orchestra
co-production with Bayerische Staatsoper
This is “another modern staging” that places the action amidst a moment of acute power vacuum within a dictatorship – with good reason, Babylonia wasn’t a shining example of enlightened democracy (not that we should be talking).
The story is wonky enough: even though Nino, the former North Korean style dictator, here referenced by a giant statue and apparently Trump-like family portraits, has been dead for 15 years, it is only now that a new – read: male – leader is needed. It appears that so far Semiramide (his widow) and Assur’s (descendant of Baal, so Mr Macho) regency has been good enough. Or perhaps this is just heavy foreshadowing/convenient plot device.
Nino and Semiramide’s son Ninia has secretly survived his infancy and has gained a reputation for himself by rising to the position of commander of Semiramide’s army, under the (Scythian) name of Arsace. It seems like Assur has not been careful enough when sweeping his path to power.
It’s the ancient world so rituals and the mysterious (ie: vague, confusing) will of gods are par for the course. Alden indulges adequately. Knee crawling and extensive “praise the gods” genuflecting from the choir pepper the duration of the opera. Agathe observed that it’s even more exaggerated than in Munich, so perhaps it’s intentionally made to appear ridiculous. I for one did not, in any case, get a feeling that Alden has any spare affection for this world.
The best quip is Azema’s completely constricting (albeit technically very accomplished) golden dress. Her constant facial expression of defeat brings out the straitjacket feel induced by the hampering overlong sleeves. Usually carried to and fro (like a sack of potatoes) by a male attendant (she seems to be needed everywhere, although it is never clear why, as she barely has a voice, mostly to express dissatisfaction with her lot1; perhaps to make up the quota of women at the court), she is at some point placed on a cordoned off plinth, with Idreno agitating around like a blood hound. I liked Bachtrack reviewer‘s comment that she looks like an
Grammy Oscar statuette, considering her suitors (Assur, Idreno and “lucky” winner Arsace) engage in what was in 1823 – and possibly still today, in certain circles – a singing contest.
Though, to be fair, the way Rossini is sung here is as far removed from showcasing fireworks as anything I’ve seen. Not that the singers don’t cover all that, because they all do with lots of skill and style, but because the focus is staunchly placed on conveying a believable drama to contemporary audiences. We have come a very long way from the ’80s. This a 3 1/2 hour opera and I didn’t flag once. A great accomplishment by all – less so by the choir, who had some issues keeping up with Pappano and Rossini, something both Agathe and I noticed, so it’s not just me always finding fault with
them something 😉
I really enjoyed Pappano’s supple and lucid conducting and the precision with which the orchestra responded to him. It’s late, more through-composed Rossini, but Pappano didn’t make it unnecessary loud and kept the drama under control. It’s still Rossini and you can still smile at jaunty tunes at dramatic moments. I was also pleased to notice the germs of “angsty soliloquies” later developed by Bellini and mastered by Verdi – at moments when the main characters have scenes which combine tuneful lines with more recit-based passages – ariosos? I’m not sure they were still called that into the 19th century – and even include “distant sounds of the city”.
JDD did a tour de force with Semiramide. He interactions with both Pertusi’s Assur (he’s an old school bad guy but a convincing one) and Barcellona’s youthful, conflicted Arsace brought out a very well rounded, strong woman, who tries and fails to reconcile outward personal ambition with an inward sense of right and wrong and sort out different kinds of love/attraction. A busy day, indeed. Though a subject well explored in the 18th century, it is perhaps no surprise that this heroine found her strongest voice in the 19th century, the one where female leads aren’t supposed to win.
I’m not saying that offing your husband should be given a pass if you beat yourself up for it for 15 years or if you then defend your child with your life but such is the scarcity of women with agency in opera that one finds it hard not to side with her – especially the unsentimental way JDD plays her. I felt from the getgo that Semiramide was ready to meet her fate whatever the costs but she was optimistic that things would turn out right in the end. Regardless of what she did that one time 15 years ago, she seems to want to right things now – get rid of dictator in waiting Assur and secure the throne for upright hero Arsace. Of course her motives are complex but that’s what we like in our fictional heroe(ine)s.
For his part, Arsace appears like a decent sort, law abiding to a fault and the opposite of a politician. He’s also, for someone who presumably grew up in the saddle and has seen a serious amount of combat, eyebrow-raisingly naive. At first Semiramide uses subtlety when pursuing him but he only gets it when she corners him cougar-style in her nightgown. Ok, battle experience does not prepare one for being chased by a woman that someone has a lot of respect for and sees as outranking him. But still, he seems young (Barcellona’s channeling Tancredi); no wonder Alden gives him a stuffed pony to remember his childhood by (he also has some unexplored issues regarding family).
The two most dramatically impressive moments for me were when Semiramide tells Assur that she would gladly renounce the throne for her child, were he to be found alive (after a conversation where Assur implies that she too has been power mad) and her desperate chase for an embarrassed Arsace. JDD portrays a moving mother-Semiramide which only makes the later scene that much more sad and tragic.
JDDs duets with Assur and Arsace were the most moving vocally. I loved the gentle way she delivered her lines in the duet where she and Assur are in bed (and he just provides long sustained vocal backing), and the very fine way she interacted/echoed the orchestra. Her second act duet with Arsace was lovely for the unassuming way JDD and Barcellona meshed their voices (mezzo-mezzo duets = ❤ ) and made the moment of mother and son reconciliation simple and moving. Agathe remarked that so late in the opera there is nothing for the singers to prove; I welcomed it as I enjoyed the consistent commitment to exploring the drama at the expense of needless showing off.
Brownlee’s Idreno and Pertusi’s Assur were less developed – and both were meant to come off as unpleasant but no less vocally accomplished. Brownlee got his shorter aria back (it was axed in Munich) and got deserved applause come curtain time (and before; most arias did). He doesn’t have JDF’s piercing wail at the very top but I don’t know that we’re poorer for that. His tone is very handsome and the voice has just the right flexibility for Rossini, no wonder he’s made his name in this repertoire. He comes off as a nice chap in interviews but here he managed to infuse Idreno with an amount of entitlement disguised as passion for Azema that reminded me of an annoying wasp.
I understand Pertusi was unwell during the premiere but everything was fine on Saturday. I hadn’t heard him before but I enjoyed his tone and elaborate skills, especially in Assur’s act II mini mad scene when Assur is hallucinating about Nino’s return. Agathe mentioned that in Munich, Esposito had acted this mad scene in such a strong manner that she hadn’t even realised just how beautiful the music was. I was quite impressed with the complexity of vocal emotion Pertusi used for this mad scene.
Out of the smaller roles I liked Szabó’s tone a lot – very easy on the ears and nicely solid singing. His dramatic skills were good, too.
There was a feeling of everyone on stage knowing that they are part of something special and behaving accordingly, with congenial help from Pappano and the orchestra. A highly enjoyable performance and a wonderful showcase of Rossini’s complex skills. During the evening I started thinking I’d like to see it again and I’m pleased to report I just managed to secure a reasonably priced second ticket this late in the game 😀 Everyone who likes great singing, try to go. The surprisingly good news is you can luck out on a return at any time (only two days ago the cheap available seat situation looked dire).
Agathe and I got tickets on the Stalls Circle left, because she knew from Munich that was the best position for the “important action” (Arsace and Semiramide singing directly at us; Barcellona’s dark, gently heroic tone caused Agathe to be on the verge of passing out 😉 several times during the evening). We were only a few feet away from the stage also with a good view of the orchestra/Pappano. There was a bit of muffle for the ppps but only in the sense of lack of ping across the board, which we supposed would not be the case from the auditorium (I’ll get back to you on that next week, especially re: Brownlee). Otherwise we heard it all in all its glory (though I had a blocked ear which caused me to strait during act I; it finally popped by the end of act I) and a badass evening it was 😀
We spent the – clear but very cold for London – day walking about central London and catching a truly beautiful sunset from the Golden Jubilee Bridge. Out of fangirl anxiety we arrived one hour early at ROH and spent time chatting in the very cosy amphitheatre lobby (ROH is in the midst of major refurbishing). I don’t shower ROH with enough praise but it’s got a lovely lobby area design – grand but not overly so; you’ll soon relax – and the ushers have once again been super accommodating. Agathe commented that the applause wasn’t quite as mad as in Munich but I thought by Stalls Circle standards it was warm indeed. In spite of the cold weather there was minimal coughing, too.
- Or, somewhat confusingly, how much Idreno’s first aria has moved her, and she’d think twice about his (very aggressive) attentions if only Arsace wasn’t the love of her life. This can be a very funny moment, though I’m not sure that’s how it’s played here, in spite of the fact that this is Rossini. By funny I mean if it’s played as a comment on the tenor’s singing skills and the relationship between star singers and their fanbase. But then it’s mixed with what today is glaringly read as a lack of agency (not one aria for her) when she’s at the centre of the entire sublot and things become funny har har. ↩
Now that we’re nearing the end of 2017, 2016 memories have started to take firmer shape.
Three productions had a profound impact on yours truly this year: ENO’s Akhnaten and ROH’s The Nose and Oedipe. Hard to miss that all of them are 20th century operas. Perhaps they just lend themselves a lot better to contemporary takes. Also, to apparently fresh takes, as none is particularly often performed. The thrill of the lesser spotted is its own reward.
Becoming who you are
Akhnaten the opera is, for me, a great example of an intelligent way of dealing with a subject (apparently) alien to our contemporary sensibilities. Our sources of understanding are 2000 years of Christianity, the Curse of the Pyramids, National Geographic aesthetics and Tutankhamen as pop culture symbol. The assertion of the self resonates through centuries.
The Nose is comedy in its purest sense. Laughing – letting go of words – is letting go of rationality (= identity). We laugh at something when it becomes absurd and words to describe what is happening fail us. Laughing is also an act of confidence: identity is revealed as silly self importance.
Identity as burden
Oh, poor Oedipe, he is cursed to be who he is. The terracotta living wall is visceral and primordial, sun-infused and of slithery mud at the same time.
I haven’t done an audio only writeup in… a long time (my laptop’s disc drive went bust about 2 years ago). This one is from the vault, of course, started in November 2013 and last updated in August 2014. There’s nothing wrong with it, aside from being relatively short, which I think was the reason I never ended up posting it. These days I don’t think it’s necessary to cross all the ts. I trust you, gentle reader, to get the gist of how I feel about this or that.
History of lovers refers to the Calexico with Iron and Wine tune.
Tancredi: Vesselina Kasarova
Amenaide: Eva Mei
Argirio: Ramon Vargas
Orbazzano: Harry Peeters
Isaura: Melinda Paulsen
Roggiero: Veronica Cangemi
Conductor: Roberto Abbado | Munchner Rundfunkorchester (17-25/08/95)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Back in the ’90s Kasarova had that distinctive yet youthful tone backed by high energy which made her so appealing in rash and broody youngster roles1. I remember hearing a Voi che sapete she sang way back when and thinking “this Cherubino would punch the Count in the face”. Her young men never sounded innocent2 yet they were all very immature. For her part, Mei is the girliest Amenaide I’ve heard so far, which is just as well; Amenaide is – or should be – a virginal babe3.
Tancredi doesn’t suffer when the lovers’ young age isn’t strictly adhered to. But now that it is expressed, it gives the whole thing a brighter, more hopeful feel from the getgo. This Amenaide would scream piercingly if Tancredi died and she’d collapse from grief on the spot4. The emphasis is on love-faced-with-terrible-obstacles rather than honour, duty and bitter revenge5.
Vargas’ Argirio can project enough leadership and he’s convincing as a concerned if strict father as well. Vargas always works as the good guy as he sounds like he means well.
Orbazzano is satisfyingly low but sounds a tad too old, like’s he’s from Argirio’s generation, which is workable. He’s never supposed to be a romantic rival to Tancredi. Peeters could sound more menacing.
Fiero incontro/Ah, come mai quell’anima: Here’s where the virginal/sensual thing really works. Even their fioriture match, good job Maestro for taking care of this detail. In the cantabile neither lover sounds particularly bitter, in fact they sound glad for a reason to sing together. They’re momentarily overcome with love for each other in spite of crossed wires. That’s not exactly what the text says but it goes with the hopeful tone of the recording. They get more angsty in the cabaletta, although never too dark. This one rocks; Mei and Kasarova’s voices are perfectly suited for each other6.
Perche turbar la calma: I said in the Valentini-Terrani Tancredi that this is a mofo of an aria but I didn’t explain myself. It’s tricky because there’s quite a bit going on:
self-pity: he’s barely regained his composure by walking away from his traitorous lover and here she is back, threatening to ruin his mood by lying to his face once again (so he thinks).
tantrum (at Amenaide): Tancredi renews his accusations of infidelity. But immediately her tears move him to almost believing her. He is indecisive for a few moments. The choir’s war cries distract him and, spurred by them, he decides on the spot to solve his dilemma by going into battle to die so that Amenaide can blame herself for his demise.
30 year old Kasarova’s Tancredi sounds a lot younger than Valentini-Terrani’s and Horne’s. Aside from whatever their own personalities imparted to the role, the level of life experience between 30 and 39 (V-T) or 43 (Horne) is pretty significant. Kasarova’s reading is unsurprisingly the less focused7 of the three. After hearing Valentini-Terrani’s Perche turbar la calma I can only expect a sharper contrast between the different moods I outlined above when discussing the aria. In hers, Kasarova uses the fff/ppp contrast where Valentini-Terrani goes for colour, more effective when it comes to expressing moods. Even though I love Kasarova’s tone, Valentini-Terrani’s characterisation is simply mindboggling.
- Like Tancredi and Romeo. ↩
- In a sensual way, I mean. They lack life experience all right. In fact, they sound hot headed and on the fast track to disaster. ↩
- I said before that my hunch is that she and Tancredi knocked the boots in ye olde Constantinopole. Here we’ve got an extremely virginal sounding Amenaide and a more sensual than usual Tancredi. Where Valentini-Terrani’s was morose and overwhelmed by dejection and Horne’s too authoritarian (more of a man’s man), Kasarova’s sounds hot blooded and annoyed rather than angsty. He must’ve been a hit with the Greek ladies back in Byzantium. I can see this girly and sensitive Amenaide getting head over hills with him and throwing caution to the wind. ↩
- The same team brought us Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi just a couple of years later, so you know what I mean. ↩
- 11th century Sicily is obviously struggling with multiculturalism. ↩
- So how did that Zurich Clemenza di Tito go so wrong? ↩
- Things worked such that Kasarova sang Tancredi in the early part of her career, which is rather unusual. I really – really – wish she sang it these days, with this more darker tone she’s got now and with the wealth of experience she’s gained since. ↩
(via Richard Jones’ Glyndebourne production from 2014 1, thoughts written in 2014 and, for whatever reason, never published)
Rosenkavalier is a pretty grubby little story of infidelity. To bring it off the characters must come over as sympathetic.
The text makes the characters sympathetic. A grubby little indiscretion only for the terminally uptight. I’m not advocating cheating on your partner but it’s pretty clear from the libretto that Die Marschallin was married off to the Marschal (as that it was the practice of the day, what with Sophie facing the same fate). Choices, eh.
Der Rosenkavalier is rooted in a painstakingly stylised version of Rococo Vienna that, paradoxically, is further fixed in a web of cannily juxtaposed anachronisms.
The problem is by throwing that out, Jones tended to make it a rather crude satire on a satire. The garish sets seemed totally at odds with what Strauss was trying to say and the costumes lacked any reality base in the period that was supposed to be satirised. They looked as if they’d wandered in from Alice in Wonderland.
A verbose way of saying you wanted a traditional production. It’s a show, fiction, make-believe of an opera that is very much about not taking yourself seriously.
The central character is the Marschallin but in trying to make her a ‘strong woman’ Royal only succeeded in making her more like the dirty duchess than the somewhat dignified and tragic figure Strauss intended her to be.
The Marschallin was not intended as a tragic figure. She’s a strong woman in the modern sense of the word. She faces reality and appears to move on with minimal distress. She’s kind, generous and playful. She’s intelligent but also tactful. She’s “in touch” with her emotions and her sexuality, as we’d say today. She’s pretty much the ideal woman 😉
Her relationship with Octavian was therefore distanced, voyeuristic and lacking in intimacy. In fact, the whole thing lacked intimacy and warmth.
More or less, that’s actually their relationship. I don’t know that’s a bad thing. It just is. How deep can a fling with a teenager be? It’s not meant to be a desperately intense Violetta and Alfredo type relationship. Here we have two people in no danger of poverty/illness or loss of social position due to their tryst2. There’s supposed to be a lightness about it, only just touched by the Marschallin’s emerging awareness of her own mortality. She’s still a young woman, there are reasons to believe this is the first time she’s imagined herself old. So just like Octavian is growing up from teenager to adult she’s moving into the next age. They are on different pages so a certain distance is perfectly normal but it’s not as if they don’t care about each other. The reviewer’s opinion is steeped in the Romantic view of opera. But this isn’t about the 18th century from the 18th century – or, worse even, from the 19th century of much judgment and prudishness. It’s from the point of view of the 20th century.
- At that time I was active on talkclassical and I asked a fellow poster about his impressions on this production under the assumption that I won’t bicker with him over diverging tastes. His comments (in italics) became a springboard for some musings on my part about DR in general which I thought I’d share here instead. ↩
- Would the Feldmarschall divorce Die Marschallin if he found out? I actually don’t know. But she’s a rich woman in her own right. ↩
The excuse I hear for why the Met and other big American companies don’t do more Handel is that their stages and auditoriums are too big. In fact, “large” operas do not have to be in big theaters and “small” operas (whatever that means) do not have to be in small ones. London’s Queen’s (later King’s) Theatre, with a seating capacity of about 1200, saw the premieres of more than 25 Handel operas. In contrast, Venice’s Teatro La Fenice, which has 700 seats, hosted the premieres of Verdi’s Ernani, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra, all of which we now associate with large opera houses. (from In Opera, Artistry Matters More Than Size)
Too often we think in terms of received size and too little in how things could be or were done. For practical purposes we might want to refurbish opera houses rather than have Handelians shout in hangar halls. After Rodelinda at ENO, nah, just make sure you have a sensitive conductor and an orchestra who knows what they’re doing.
Plotkin also muses:
I love modern and new opera but wonder whether we are missing a lot by not having masterpieces from the first 150 years of opera, which was born in 1597.
What’s more important, keeping to large halls or hearing good music? So perhaps the Met needs a local stage for its Handel, which can go up to 1500 capacity or so. That’s ideal but failing that conductor -> orchestra -> singers who can sing the music.
That’s probably the easy part; the most difficult thing must be the perception of how opera sounds and to some extent, its heroes/heroines. If the usual Met public is coming for high Cs and sopranos dying of TB and other patriarchy induced issues, the transition to Baroque voices and heroines like Alcina, Agrippina and Poppea might take a while. That being said, if Boston has been doing its Baroque thing for so long, there is clearly a public hungry for this kind of thing.
recently at the time of my rant hit on a subject that still (STILL) gets my goat. Naturally I ran to my 6 many months old ranty draft and stroked it a few times. Then I thought I should vent my anger (for it makes me foamy (oh, so foamy…)).
Eagerly awaited by yours truly, the 2011/2012 Munich I Capuleti e i Montecchi turned out to be a spectacularly inept production1. There are only two good things about it: Bellini’s music and Romeo. The rest is like a wisdom tooth ache: dull, painful and the mere thought of it almost as uncomfortable as the thing itself. Shame on you, Bayerische Staatstoper!
To those few who don’t know, in 2012 this production had VK as Romeo, Anna Netrebko as Giulietta and some guys in the other roles, plus Maestro Yves Abel running the shoddy ship into every rock on the way. To add insult to injury, midway through the run AN decided she’d had enough of her sink and unceremoniously boarded the nearest lifeboat. Bayerische shipped the 2011 Giulietta (Nakamura) back and refunded 1/2 of the (ridiculously high) ticket price to the angry Netrebkites.
Back in 2012 I watched the livestream (on mum’s ancient desktop) and then I re-watched it on youtube on a brand new laptop, which mum thoughtfully bought the day after. I read others’ comments on it, some of which made for very good reading though they appeared to be about something else than what I had seen. I didn’t make an effort to snap it before the cerbers at Bayerische mauled it off youtube. I eventually acquired it in hopes that time brings perspective. I’ve watched it a couple more times and my disappointment has turned to anger. There are just too many things that irk me:
Giulietta – NO. NO. NO. NO. Also: no.
fussy/inept costumes – epitome of fashion hype: unflattering and completely impractical
harsh lighting that made them all look like zombies – it’s set in a morgue, then
all-over-the-shop choir – perhaps coached by some fashion hanger-on
- overly precious ending – just look behind you already, Romeo!
- saddles – obviously!
- sink – the sink is to regie what stairs are to trad productions = a bold statement of lack of imagination; this is a
- wedding party on bleachers – fashion shoot on stairs, duh
- reflective and uneven walls – the stage designer and the light designer meet after a successful double lobotomy
To be fair to the end, VK too seemed a day or two past the sell-by date. Major meh. It’s beyond annoying that posterity will be left with this video version of her Romeo, when she’s done such an exceptional job with this role over the years. At the time I was very upset that I couldn’t see it live but in the very long run it looks like I saved myself further frustration not to mention money and fuss.
- I don’t truly like any Capuleti production I’ve seen so far. Very frustrating. ↩