Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Notable CD and DVD releases for the month of July

July Releases
Rolando Villazon crosses over to pop music in his new Deutsche Grammophon album entitled La Strada: Songs from the Movies. The album contains songs from some of Hollywood's most famous movies.

Tenor Zoran Todorovich sings Puccini, Verdi and Wagner in his new recital CD entitled Arias. The CD will be released by Oehm Classics. For those who are not familiar with Todorovich he can be seen in the Deutshce Grammphon DVD of Norma starring Edita Gruberova.

Zoran Todorovich: Arias

Nino Machaidze releases her first solo album entitled Romantic Arias. The CD released on Sony Classical features works by Massenet, Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini
Romantic Arias
Opus Arte releases a new Pique Dame from the Liceu of Barcelona. The Production by Michael Boder stars Misha Didyk, Emily Magee, Lado Ataneli, and Ludovic Tezier.

A new Falstaff is released by Art Haus starring Bernd Weikl from the PfalzTheater. The performance is conducted by Uwe Sandner.

The Metropolitan Opera releases two new DVDS on Decca. The first is Aida starring Violetta Urmana who will reprise the role this upcoming season, Johan Botha, Dolora Zajick and Carlo Guelfi. Danielle Gatti conducts. The second DVD release is Turandot starring Maria Guleghina who will sing Nabucco this year at the Met, Marcello Giordani, Marina Poplavskaya and Samuel Ramey. Andris Nelsons conducts. The performances were recorded during the 2009-2010 season

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gubanova to sing all Anna Bolenas

Its official Ekaterina Gubanova will sing all the performances of Anna Bolena at the Met this season. A few months back it was announced that Elina Garanca had pulled out of the role of Jane Seymour do to pregnancy. Much was speculated about the Mezzo who would replace her but at the end of May it was announced that Ekaterina Gubanova would replace her for the initial run. The two performances in February were still not cast. However today according to the Met website, Gubanova will also sing the last two performances.

Ekaterina Gubanova made her debut at the Met in War and Peace. In 2009 she sang the new production premiere in L'Contes d'Hoffman as Giulietta. This year she replaced Olga Borodina in the role of Eboli in Don Carlo for the Met Tokyo tour. 


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Macbeth Preview 2011-12

Verdi's Macbeth returns to the Met in Adrian Nobles haunting production which opened in 2007.

Thomas Hampson as Macbeth and Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]

The Production
Adrian Noble's production of Macbeth returns to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time since its premiere run in 2007. Mr. Noble, a specialist in Shakespeare sets the opera in one of the World Wars. The set is a dark and empty circle surrounded by stylised trees. He plays with chairs, beds and the witches are dressed as grumpy old housewives. He plays with lighting using torches and lamps to create haunting imagery and great effects. The choreography in the final battle scene is some of the best the Met has to offer. While many had problems with some of Noble's choices such as Lady Macbeth rolling around the floor, I found each and everyone of his choices spectacular and captivating. The staging while minimalist is still very traditional and will most likely be at the Met for many years to come.

The Cast  
Thomas Hampson adds the role of Macbeth to his Met repertoire. For many years Mr. Hampson sang Mozart and Bel-canto roles but has slowly been changing his repertoire to pure Verdi and Puccini. In addition he has become a specialist in Mahler, a repertoire which is very focused on text. Therefore Hampson is known for approaching his roles according to the text and and emphasizing certain vowels and words in the libretto. His recent change of repertoire in my opinion this has made his voice weaker, wobbly and sound forced. His voice is that of  lyrical baritone, and therefore to small for Verdi and Puccini. However at the Met he has sang many Verdi roles including Posa in Don Carlo, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo in Ernani, and Germont in La Traviata. Of these roles I have had the chance to hear him do all except Posa and I can honestly say that the Don Carlo is the only one that he has excelled in. This year he faces a big challenge as Macbeth is one of the most difficult roles for baritone in the Verdi canon. He has sang the role numerous times and most recently last year at the Lyric Opera of Chicago for which he was praised for his emphasis on the text and his praising. All in all, I can't predict what Hampson will add to the role or how he will sound. As of late Hampson's voice seems more sturdy. This is can bee seen in the new Traviata release by Opus Arte and in the Tosca released by Decca. All I can hope is that he brings something new to the role.

Nadja Micheal makes her Met Debut in the role of Lady Macbeth. Hailed for her dramatic skills and her interpretation of the Salome, Michael sang Lady Macbeth alongside Hampson in the Lyric Opera of Chcago. She was hailed for her power and intensity as well as her acting skills. I have never heard Michael's voice so I am very excited to see what all the hype is about.

Macbeth Costume Sketch LMB 10110(1)

Dimitri Pittas returns to the role of Macduff, a role he triumphed in, in 2007. The New York Times hailed him for his melting sound and dramatic urgency. As I stated before in my Boheme preview, he has a beautiful voice but it is his physical that does not allow him to act or move around the stage as well. However unlike Rodolfo, Macduff is a secondary character which has important parts in the opera but is not required as much acting prowess as the two leads, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.


I expect the same chemistry Michael and Hampson had when they sang the roles in Chicago. However I can not predict how great Hampson will sound in this opera. Michael will most likely have a great debut and Pittas will probably triumph as he did last time. Finally, I suspect that audiences will love this production as much as they did when it opened regardless of what critics will say.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nabucco Preview 2011-12

The Production
Nabucco returns to the Met after a 6 year absence. The opera Nabucco is known for its challenging soprano role and as a result few sopranos have sang it. The Result is that the Met has only presented it a limited number of times and has only staged it twice. The return of Nabucco comes with the return of the Elijah Moshinsky's production, a production that premiered in 2001 with Maria Guleghina, Juan Pons and Samuel Ramey. The production is traditional and rotates on a turn table in order to keep the action moving. Think Il Trovatore by David McVicar with more lavish sets and without stupid concepts. The direction is old school and as a result there is more standing around or how I like to call it "Parking and Barking". However with great singing actors, acting can occur.

 The Cast
Maria Guleghina returns to the role of Abigaille for the third time at the Met. She first sang the role in 2001 and then in 2005 where she was hailed for her drmatic power. The NY times praised Guleghina for throwing her "powerful soprano ardently." However time has passed and Guleghina's voice has chnaged. Guleghina has always had a powerful voice and wonderful low notes. Her voice has never been beautiful but it has always been balanced and stable. However I can't help but notice that Guleghina no longer has good high notes and her singing is unstable and at times wobbly. She struggles to reach her high notes and almost always ends up screaming them or singing flat. This was best displayed in her Turandot which she sang at the Met two years ago. She had the power for a great Turandot but lacked the high notes and the stability. I am a big fan of Guleghina as I have always admired her acting ability and her stage presence. However I must admit that I am concerned about her returning to this role. I don't know if she can pull off the high notes and the coloratura runs that are required for the role. However if her Lady Macbeth is any indication of what this Nabucco may be, then perhaps it could be great. After all Puccini and Verdi require different vocal techniques.

Zeljko Lucic sings his first Nabucco at the Met. Ever since his debut in 2006 in La Gioconda, Lucic has become a house favorite singing every major Verdi role. His high point in my opinion was Macbeth which was recorded in HD alongside Guleghina. Lucic showed beautiful vocals with amazing lyrical praising and great dramatic skills. These performances gave us great promise and even suggested that he could become the next great Verdi Bartione in the world of Opera. However, ever since this run, Lucic has gone on to sing subpar performances of Rigoletto, Trovatore, and Traviata. He has shown his musicality in each of these performances but his breath control and his tone are something to worry about. Perhaps this is due to the smoking that he claims to be a guilty pleasure. I wonder if his Nabucco will be as good as his Macbeth or as unstable as his recent performances.

The chorus is probably the most important part of this opera as they sing throughout. They accompany the singers in their arias and cabalettas and they have plenty of numbers most famously "Va Pensiero" which the chorus encores when the audience responds well. With a chorus master as great as Donald Palumbo I am sure the chorus is bound to be the highlight of the evening.

Before concluding my entry I want to add that the return of Nabucco also marks the reuniting of Guleghina and Lucic. When they sang together in the new production premiere of Macbeth, their chemistry was a force of nature. I assume that they have not lost it. As a result this is something that really excites me about the return of the opera.

I am really excited about the return of this gem. However I feel concerned about both the principals as they are no longer at the heights of their careers. I can only hope that they surprise.


Monday, June 13, 2011

La Boheme preview 2011-2012 season

Here is a clip from the HD performance

The Production
Zeffirelli’s classic production of La Boheme returns to the Met. Ever since the Met opened Zefirelli's production in 1982 with Teresa Stratas, Jose Carreras and Renata Scotto, the production has been beloved by audiences and hated by critics because of its grandeur and big sets. Critics have also stated that the singers get lost in the sets. However if a singer is truly great, they will not allow anything to get in their way of accomplishing a great performance. Like audiences, I love the detail Zeffierelli adds to the sets. He creates the world of the opera as no other director has been able to and immerses you into the work. Zefierelli does not add any conceptual ideas or any new elements to the story and because of this it is not specific in any way allowing the singers to add their own interpretations. Originally this production was to be changed next year and therefore was not to be given this season. However Gelb feared a reaction similar to that of Tosca. Therefore he has stated that productions such as those of Turandot and La Boheme will remain at the house for a longer period.

The Cast
A staple of the Met and quite possibly the most popular opera, La Boheme returns to the Met with a relatively unknown cast. This is an odd move for Mr. Gelb as the last few Boheme runs Gelb has tried to add stars to the rosters artists that have included the likes of Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Ramon Vargas and Angela Gheorghiu. This year Hibla Gerzmava and Hei-Kyung Hong will take on the role of Mimi, a feat that will be difficult especially with the legacy of great singers who have done the role to acclaim most recently Netrebko. Last year when the roster for L’Contes d’Hoffman was announced there were also relatively unknown singers except for Ildar Abadrazakov and Giuseppe Fillianoti. However the three lovers were unknown to me and to the Met audience. I wondered where Mr. Gelb had heard of these artists and if they were any good. Hibla Gerzmava was among this roster.  Hibla Gerzmava made her Met debut last year in the role of Antonia, a role she triumphed in. Having seen both Netrebko and Gerzmava in the same role and production, I will state that Gerzmava was much better. Her voice soared with confidence and beauty something Netrebko’s interpretation lacked. In addition her characterization was more sincere. Gerzmava is not new to the role of Mimi as she has sung it to great acclaim at the Royal Opera House, a performance that was recorded and produced on DVD by Opus Arte. Therefore there is no doubt that Gerzmava can triumph on this role and likely become a household name at the Met. Hei-Kyung Hong returns to the role of Mimi a role she sang for the first time at Met in 1987. Hong made her debut in 1984 and ever since has been on the Met roster for quite a long time. but ever since Mr. Gelb became General Manager of the Met she has not been cast as a principal singer. Instead she has been relegated to being a cover and to very few performances. A few years back she sang an incredible Violetta in La Traviata but since then she has been gone from the principal roster. However it was last year when she replaced the superstar Angela Gheorghiu, in the role of Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette that Gelb saw her quality and immediately cast her for this series of Bohemes. Coincidentally, during the Volpe age, the only chance I got to hear Hong was also in the role of Antonia. Like Gerzmava her voice soared. She brought youth to her character as well as delicacy and beauty. I recall her high notes being exquisite and pure. Having heard her Juliette from last year, her voice is no longer as youthful and pure as it used to be. However she still maintains the beauty and color of the voice. The voice is also more fragile which may help add to the character of Mimi. Having these two non star divas as the leads I hope both triumph so that Gelb notices that there is more to a voice then the 
marketing behind the singer.

Hibla Gerzmava as Mimì. Photograph: Johan Persson

Dimitri Pittas returns to the Met after a two year absence. He was last seen at the Met in the role of Nemorino in L'Elsir d'Amore in 2009. He made his debut back in 2005 in the role of a Herald in Don Carlo. However, it was not until 2007 in the role of Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth that he became noticed. He brought youth to his performance, a performance that was recorded live in HD. However Pittas is not an actor, something that I immediately noticed when I saw him in L’Elisir d’Amore. He can sing beautifully but his physical does not help his stage presence. He is short and chubby and therefore can be easily lost in the massive Met stage. In addition, his physical does not allow him to move across the stage with ease. Instead, he looks uncomfortable at times as he moves. However, I am sure he will make a good Rodolfo if not great one.

Susanna Phillips returns to her calling card role of Mussetta. Phillips is charismatic and a very good actress. There is no doubt she will be great. She may even steal the show because of the experience she has with the role.

I am really interested in seeing how well this show sells especially with no stars and with raised ticket prices. In addition, I am wondering if Gerzmava will succeed and if people will finally notice her. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Anna Netrebko signs a new contract with Deutsche Grammphon

Star soprano Anna Netrebko has just signed a new contract with her record company Deutsche Grammphon. Michael Lang, Deutsche Grammophon’s President, said: “Our long-term partnership with Anna has created the most inspired,  beautiful, and artistic recordings. We are thrilled to continue this tradition with such a superb artist.” Anna Netrebko stated "We have many exciting new ideas."
I wonder what these new ideas are and if this means a new Manon DVD or Anna Bolena from Vienna. Does it mean that they will finally take out a Romeo et Juliette. I am very interested in seeing what Netrebko's new ideas are and if she will record an Italian CD with Verdi and Puccini. For the mean time, I want to know what the public thinks.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tosca Preview 2011-12

Tosca returns to the Metropolitan Opera for the third straight year with a new cast which includes Patricia Racette, Roberto Alagna and Aleksandrs Antonenko

The Production
Luc Bondy's set for Tosca (with furniture so cheap looking that it might as well have come from Ikea) returns to Met for the third straight year. In 2009 this production opened the Metropolitan Opera season starring Karita Mattila and Marcelo Alvarez. When the performance finished the production team was met with boos. Critics called the production "melodramatic", "safe", "gimmicky," and "awkward." In my opinion this production is an atrocious monstrosity. Bondy has no respect for the music and he politely stated that he was only "staging a an opera" in a sardonic tone.In addition he has no sense of direction. His sets which are "stark, spare, and cold" and  his costumes by Oscar winner Milena Canonero don't match time periods. Tosca which is a very strong character is directed by Bondy as a cowardly woman. This is best seen at the end of act 2 after she kills Scarpia. Instead of doing the traditional candle ceremony, Tosca tries to jump out the window and then decides to lie on a couch fanning herself. While there may be nothing wrong with portraying the iconic diva in a new light, the fanning and suicide attempt instead of "foreshadowing Tosca's death" (which i imagine was the intent with her trying to jump out the window come off as pathetic and laughable at the worst possible moment in the opera.

Met general manager Peter Gelb's response to the boos and the critics was to immediately defend the production. However seeing that his ticket prices were poor and audience was not happy, he made plans to bring Franco Zefferelli's staging back the next season stating that his new Ring production which would premiere in the spring was too big to hold Luc Bond'y's production. Angela Gheorghiu  was scheduled for that spring run of Tosca but quickly withdrew when it was revealed that Bondy's production would be the only Tosca. Other stars have also shown their disapproval for Bondy's direction such as Sondra Radvanovsky last seasons Tosca. She expressed her disagreement with Tosca fanning herself after killing Scarpia as well as other directional decisions. Last season in order to improve the production, Bondy made some changes which included lighting effects and more. However these improvements were useless as the Tosca became one of the hardest tickets to sell. One only need to see the over-the-top attempts at advertising and marketing this behemoth. The Met bought airwaves from WQXR 105.9 to schedule an hour program in which Radvonovsky showcased her favorite Toscas, something which has NEVER been done before under Gelb as far as I am concerned.  The production is a co-production with Munich and La Scala di Milano.

The Cast
Patricia Racette returns to her riveting portrayal of Tosca, which she sang for the first time at the Met in 2010
She was hailed for singing for her expressivity, uncommon richness and honesty. Racette is increasingly becoming a house favorite especially for portrayals of Puccini heroines such as Madama Butterfly which was part of the HD performances. More about that later in my upcoming Madama Butterfly preview. Racette made her Met debut in 1995 in the role of Mussetta in La Boheme

Roberto Alagna returns to the role of Cavaradossi, a role he stepped in for for the ailing Marcelo Alvarez last season. He sang strongly and surely as the New York Times stated in their review. Roberto Alagna has sang the role to acclaim all over the world. I for one am not a fan of the tenor because of his tendencies to shout and his lack of technical vocal control. However Cavaradossi is definitely suited well in his voice.


The other tenor Alekansandrs Antonenko is one to watch in this role. A few years ago he made his debut at Salzburg in the role of Verdi's Otello, a role that is known for its difficulty. However, he scored a huge success and has quickly been making a name for himself. In 2009 he made his debut in the role of the Prince in Dvorak's Rusalka. Critics hailed his performance and quickly the Met brought him back for Il Trittico which he starred alongside Racette and Boris Godunov. Critics once again hailed him for his powerful and beautiful voice. I heard him at Carnegie Hall in April in Otello under Muti and he was everything I expected and more. Here is a link to our review.  Without a doubt Antonenko is sure to be a huge success in this role and with his rich and expressive voice can surely steal the show from Racette.

To end the cast both George Gagnidze and James Morris return to the role of Scarpia. George Gagnidze, who made is Met debut in 2008 in the role of Rigoletto added nothing to the role of Scarpia when he sang it in 2009 at Opening Night. His voice sounds old and wobbly. On the other hand James Morris was able to convey Scarpia's elegance when he sang the role at the Chicago Lyric Opera last Season. He has sang numerous Scarpia's at the Met including a run last season in the spring and even though he is no longer at the height of his career and his voice is no longer as bright and strong, he still sings with emotion and with strength.

With a great cast Luc Bondy's production may end up being a second thought as it occurred when Patricia Racette, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel stepped into the roles in Spring 2010. It may reinforce the notion that singers are still the most important ingredient in opera, regardless of the furniture that surrounds them. 

Past Reviews for this Tosca Production
NY Times
Financial Times
Wall Street Journal

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cecilia Bartoli Records Norma

So according to the blog parterre the bel Canto Specialist Cecilia Bartoli is recording Norma. This is the second soprano role she records for Decca. The first was La Sonnanbula with Juan Diego Florez. I can't wait to hear breathing and overly fast tempos. Sure she has amazing coloratura but thats does not make matters any better. I don't understand how she is allowed to record these roles. What makes matters worse is that these recordings are then called great recordings and definitive versions. Definitive versions are those that are sung in theaters. Except those recordings of La Callas such as Manon Lescaut. Bartoli however will never sing them in an opera house and she will never be la Callas. In addition, I don't understand why she considers herself a mezzo when she is always singing soprano roles. I know that they were probably written for the mezzo but quite frankly no one wants to hear them sung by a mezzo. Its not as exciting. Don;t get me wrong I love Mezzos but Norma and Sonnanbula for a mezzo is anti-climatic. Whatever people feel about her, I will tell you this, I can't consider a woman great when her voice is to small for a theater, and when all I hear in a recording is breathing and a lack of expression due to the terribly fast tempos.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Notable CD and DVD releases for the month of June

June Releases 
The renown Wagnerian soprano Nina Stemme and superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann star in Fidelio with Claudio Abbado conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
Danielle De Niese releases her third solo album for Decca entitled Beauty of the Baroque. The CD includes works by Handel, Purcell, Pergolesi and Bach.
Opus Arte releases a Billy Budd from Glydenbourne starring John Mark Ainsley and conducted by Mark Elder.
BelAir releases a Macbeth from the Paris opera house starring international superstar Violetta Urmana.  

These are just some titles to check out this month

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

La Fille Due Regiment Preview

Metropolitan Opera 2011-2012 preview
With three months left until the new Met season I will go through each individual opera and preview the works in random order sharing my thoughts on the production and on the cast.
The Production
In 2008 the Metropolitan opera premiered the current Laurent Pelly production, a co-production with the Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera. Pelly’s production updates Napoleonic warfare in the Tyrol to the time of World War I. The production removes everything that might remind us of the toy-soldier productions seen during Sutherland and Pavarotti's time. The recurring theme of the production is travel maps spread throughout the whole stage.

The Cast  
When this production opened in 2008 Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez starred. Both were hailed  for their acting skills and their beautiful singing. In addition at opening night Florez repeated the famed aria "Ah! Mes Aims" which is renowned for the nine high C's. From this moment on Florez became known as the new king of the High C's. Two years later Florez returned to the role with a different Marie. The soprano was Diana Damrau. Because the production was especially created for Natalie Dessay, it was hard to see a new soprano take on the role. However Diana Damrau was hailed for her clever acting and her beautiful singing. The New York Times even stated that she gave Natalie Dessay a run for her money. 

This year Nino Machaidze will take on the feat. Machaidze became renowned when she replaced the famed Anna Netrebko at Salzburg in the role of Juliette in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. Since then she has sang all over the world in major theaters including La Scala and The Covent Garden. She recently signed a contract with Sony Classical and her first CD entitled Romantic Arias will be released in the summer. Last winter Machaidze made her Met debut in the role of Gilda in Rigoletto. The performance was hailed for her commitment as an artist but she was criticized for being vocally flat and having no trills. This is a little concerning considering the fact La Fille du Regiment requires high notes and many trills. In addition I have never found Nino Machaidze to be a compelling actress. She always seems like she is phoning it in or exaggerating her facial gestures. This is another concern of mine. She will have to sing in the footsteps of two great divas who have conquered this role. Machaidze has at this point hidden under the names of Damrau, Dessay and Netrebko and has not been able to solidfy her name as one of the great divas of our time. In addition she has constantly been cast in the same roles these divas have sang and constantly been compared to them. However Machaidze has already sang this production in Europe so she may be able to improve upon what she has already done and perhaps become a household name at the MET.

Lawrence Brownlee returns to the role of Tonio, a role he is already acquainted with and has sang at the MET to acclaim. He has been hailed for his agile and expressive voice. Brownlee made his debut in Il Barbiere di Siviglia in 2007 when Bartlett Sher's production premiered and immediately became a household name. Since his debut he has sang two HD preformances La Cenrentola and Armida and became the first African American to win the Richard Tucker award.  

To round out the cast the illustrious Kiri Te Kanawa returns to the role of the Duchess of Krakenthrop, a short cameo role. Two years ago she entered the stage singing Ginastera’s “Canción al Arbol del Olvido." With her comic timing she easily stole  the show from the two leads Florez and Damrau. This year being the best actress of the cast, she can easily steal the show again and make us forget that she is only in the opera for about 15 minutes. 

I am interested in seeing how Machaidze does in the title role. My ultimate question is can she bring something new to the role or is it simply going to be a routine run?