Wednesday, August 31, 2011

L'Elisir d'Amore Preview 2011-12

Juan Diego Florez and Diana Damrau return to the Met to dazzle audiences in what should be one of the most satisfying revivals of the season.

The Production
John Copley's 1991 production returns to the Met after a disappointing run in 2009. The production's sets are by Beni Montresor and include colored backdrops with canvases that rise and fall to change the scene. The costumes are equally colorful and traditional. Sharon Thomas has taken over the direction of the production and while following most of the original direction she has not added or changed anything. The problem with this is that most of the time the singers are reverted to standing and singing. The result is a production that looks and feels old fashion. As the New York Times stated the production has seen better days.

The Cast
The Met brings back the new golden couple Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez. Over the past few years Damrau and Florez have captivated audiences around the world in the Bel-Canto repertoire. Their chemistry is great and their comic timing is unbeatable. At the Met they have sung Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Fille Due Regiment and Le Comte Ory to acclaim. This year they return to revive Copley's traditional production in what should be a refreshing look at Nemorino and Adina's story.

Juan Diego Flórez © Opernhaus Zürich/Suzanne Schwiertz

Juan Diego Florez returns to the Met in Donizetti's comic masterpiece. Florez who has sung numerous amount of Bel-Canto roles  has never sung L'Elisir D'Amore at the Met. Nemorino is a role that he has sung to acclaim around the world and has made "Una Furtiva Lagrima" a showstopping aria. Florez has had the opportunity of encoring this aria around the world and hopefully will be allowed to encore the aria if the audience responds well to his singing. Florez has one of the most beautiful and refined voices in opera today. His technique is insuperable and his acting abilities are incredible. Florez utilizes subtly in order to express the desired emotion without ever overacting. Overall Florez gives depth to every character he creates and Nemorino will not be the exception. Its a shame his Nemorino interpretation has yet to be recorded and it will not be at the Met. One only wishes that a theater will eventually record his Nemorino.

Diana Damrau makes her Met role debut as Adina, a role she recently sang at the Royal Opera House to critical acclaim. Critic's called her Adina "natural, and flirty." They said that her singing was winning and that her coloratura was perfect." Diana Damrau's singing is controlled and her phrasing vivid creating beautiful lines in the music. As I stated in my Barber of Seville preview, Damrau's voice has grown since the birth of her child. Her coloratura is even more solid and her high notes are more pure than before. With Damrau's charisma, she will create a funny and compelling Adina.

Alessandro Corbelli reprises the role of the Dulcamara. Corbelli, a specialist in comedy brings his charisma and acting prowess to this iconic role. Corbelli's technique is able to surf through all the vocal fireworks Donizetti's music requires. In addition his diction is spot on pronouncing every syllable and word written in the score. Corbelli should be an enticing Dulcamara. 

Mariusz Kwiecien makes yet another comic turn after his highly praised Dr. Malatesta. This year he takes on the role of Belcore, a role he previewed in the 40th Anniversary Gala in 2008. In past years Kwiecien has taken on heavy roles that have not suited his voice and as a result have strained his voice. However last year Kwiecien returned to Malatesta a lyric role that suited him in 2006. He triumphed and critics raved about his gorgeous vocal line and his wit. Belcore should be a good match for Kwiecien as the role is light and generally lies in the same vocal line as Malatesta. With Kwiecien's comedic timing and suave voice, he should be riveting as Belcore.    

Here is a preview of Florez's "Una Furtiva Lagrima"

Its a shame that this run of L'Elisir D'Amore won't be part of the Live in HD at the Met as it looks to be one of the hottest tickets this year.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Licitra in a grave Coma!

Salvatore Licitra's doctors reported today August 30 that he remains in an extremely serious coma following a car crash he suffered last Saturday. His doctor reports that during the night monitoring of his respiratory activity and a CAT scan of his chest revealed pulmonary complications due to the impact suffered when he came off his scooter. As a result his lungs were carefully cleaned via a broncoscopy this morning. However the doctors are reporting that the situation is grave, compromising and very complicated. Licitra still remains in a serious coma. According to Doctors Licitra likely suffered an interruption of blood flow to the brain just before the crash.

Our prayers are with him and we hope that he recovers soon.

For more information in Italian click here

Monday, August 29, 2011

Notable CD and DVD releases for the month of September

The month of September brings a limited amount of releases. Still there are appealing titles to choose from.

Vittorio Grigolo releases his second CD. This album entitled Arrivederci includes popular Sicilian and Neapolitan works and arias by Verdi. With this second release Grigolo is quickly establishing himself as the new Italian superstar and Sony's A-Lister.

Live at the Met

Anna Netrebko celebrates her 10th anniversary with the Metropolitan Opera with her new album Live from the Metropolitan Opera. The album includes highlights from Netrebko's repertoire at the Met from composers Bellini, Puccini, Mozart, Gounod, Offenbach, Donizetti and Verdi.

The Teatro Real de Madrid releases a new Le Nozze di Figaro featuring an all star cast. Barbara Frittoli stars as the Countess, Ludovic Tezier as Count Almaviva, Luca Pisaroni as Figaro and Isabel Rey as Sussana.

The Royal Opera's ambitious Anna Nicole opera commission by Mark-Anthony Turnage is released on DVD for the first time. Eva Maria Westbroek who triumphed in the premiere of the opera stars alongside acclaimed baritone Gerald Finley.

Update on Salvatore Licitra's health

Early this morning August 29, Salvatore Licitra's doctors spoke to the Italian media reporting that the Italian tenor is still in the ICU of Garibaldi hospital in Sicily. After suffering extensive head and chest injuries in a fall from his scooter this past Saturday night the AGI news agency reported that Licitra's condition is stable, but severe. He is evolving unexpectedly. 
For more information click here

Sunday, August 28, 2011

La Traviata Preview 2011-12

Salzburg's hailed production returns to the Met starring the ravishing Natalie Dessay.

The Production
Decker's production premiered in 2005 in Salzburg to rave reviews in part due to its wonderful cast led by Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. The production was recorded and released on DVD and CD, becoming one of the most popular recordings of La Traviata in recent years. It also launched the two stars to stardom. The Netherlands Opera opened the production with Marina Poplavskaya, hoping for the same results. The production was once again hailed for its dramatic power. However it did not bring Poplavskaya to the same stardom. Last year Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager opened the production looking to make La Traviata a more theatrical experience. However he had hoped to bring the original cast Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. Netrebko withdrew from the production stating that she did not want to compete with her DVD and that "the production was too specific to sing again." Villazon later withdrew due to vocal troubles. The result was a less starry cast which included Poplavskaya, Polenzani and Andres Dobber and a hailed production. Critics called the production an "involving theatrical experience that belongs at the Met." They also hailed Decker for developing vulnerable and revealing portrayals. The production is a minimalist one made up of a curved blue-white wall. In some scenes there is a red couch and in all scenes there is a huge clock representing that Violetta's time is running out. Dr.Grenvil is seen throughout the production following Violetta and representing death.The costumes are modern. Decker's emphasis on Violetta is seen as she wears a bright red dress that stands out from the rest of the chorus and characters. In addition, Violetta is the only woman in the whole show. The chorus and female characters, such as Flora, are all dressed in suits. Decker's approach is to go away from all the lavish quality one is used to in La Traviata and goes for all the raw elements. Violetta is no longer a high class woman and instead is a straight out prostitute. Alfredo is not a refined young man. Instead he is an emotionally distraught character. Germont is the only character who is more or less the same. Having seen the production last year I was very disappointed. After the Salzburg DVD, Poplavskaya and Polenzani's performances seemed lacking in the emotional depth that was so natural and compelling in Netrebko and Villazon's performance. However, I would like to add that unlike most critics, I am no fan of this production. My main problem is with Decker's approach to the character of Violetta. Making her a common prostitute deprives her of the dignity that Verdi worked so hard to integrate and preserve in this most intimate of operas. The emphasis on Violetta being a sexual creature in the first act makes it impossible to perceive any sign of the dying woman. Decker compensates by shoving the clock in our face for the duration of the opera to remind us that this is an opera about death. Which brings me to the second problem with this production. For Decker, symbols are the most important aspect of his direction. The clock, the doctor, the flowers, the barren stage, the red dress, the attire, etc. I have nothing against a director trying to bring new insight into a work. However, Decker's preoccupation with symbols seems like a move more at home in a Wagner opera rather than one of Verdi's. Characters and their emotions were always Verdi's main concern in his operas. Philosophical/Symbolic discourse never really played a role in his ouevre.  He often even sacrificed dramatic logic in favor of emotional circumstances. While their is no real dramatic sacrifice in Traviata, Verdi's attention to character is never more detailed than in this work. Decker's obsession with symbols  puts the characters and their emotions as second in importance, often leaving one cold after a performance of this production. has a tremendous cast of singing actors that have the emotional power to compensate in this up-hill battle. Netrebko-Villazon is one example of this sort of success. Last years duo portrayed how difficult it truly is.
The Cast
Natalie Dessay brings her acting abilities to the role of Violetta in Willy Decker's ambitious production. Dessay made her role debut in 2009 at the Santa Fe opera to rave reviews and was hailed for her "gut-wrenching theatricality, energy and physicality. Critics hailed her natural phrasing in the arias like "Addio del passato" and her delicacy in making Violetta's character fragile. However she was criticized for her her small voice and for being unable to fill the the auditorium. In addition to that her low notes were problematic and her "amami alfredo" was not moving. Since her role debut 2 years have passed and Dessay has gone through surgery in her vocal cords. Last year when she returned to the Met after a year of vocal rest Dessay's voice was no longer as flexible and no longer as sweet. Instead it was coarse. Her high notes were no longer pure, sounding mostly forced and screechy. As Dessay said in an interview at the Lucia HD performance, she stated that last years run may be her last for the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. This is probably an indication of where Dessay wants to go with the remaining part of her career. This year Dessay returns to the role of Traviata after a run at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France. During this run of performances her second in the role of Violetta, critics hailed her once again for her acting abilities and called her a "superb dramatic actress." However they also remarked that Dessay will most likely not make a habit of this role as her low notes are problematic. However Dessay will sing her third run of the role at the Met this year. Willy Decker's stark production is going to allow Dessay all the liberties in terms of acting that she is used to as she will have the  opportunity to jump, dance, run and crawl all over the ground. Violetta never leaves the stage in this production so Dessay will have the chance to show herself off as an actress. The problem here lies in her singing. The Met is a huge house, bigger than the other two theaters Dessay has sang the role in. While her voice is able to fill the auditorium in roles like Lucia and Marie in La Fille du Regiment, she will have a harder time with Violetta. Verdi's orchestration is heavier than in most of the other roles she sings and if she has already had trouble in the smaller houses Dessay's job will be much harder here at the Met.

Matthew Polenzani returns to the role of Alfredo. Polenzani's lyric tenor is elegant and beautiful. Polenzani knows how to phrase the music and sing with integrity. When he sang last year in this production he was hailed for communicating Alfredo's suffering and jealousy as well as for his ardent singing.

However as much as Polenzani has a beautiful voice, I believe that his voice is best suited for Mozart and the Bel-Canto repertoire. His voice is much to sweet and small for Verdi's orchestration and this is demonstrated in his singing. Polenzani never suffers from breath control issues when singing the light repertoire. But when he sings Verdi, Polenzani sounds strained and out of breath. It may be the production which also requires him to run around like crazy. I have heard Polenzani numerous times in the Verdi repertoire and he has never convinced me.  

Dimitri Hvorostovsky takes on yet another Verdi role, this time one that he  has sung for over 10 years. The last time Hvorostovsky sang the role was in 2010 at the Royal Opera House in which critics hailed him for his "implacable, pitiless patrician as Alfredo’s stern father and for singing with sophistication." Two seasons have passed since this run and as I stated in my Ernani preview Hvorostovsky's timbre has become dry and coarse. While I am not confident in his Don Carlo, I believe that Hvorostovsky still has the potential to sing beautifully in the role of Germont.

La Traviata will never be the same again as Willy Decker's production is stark and fastidious to look at. The cast is uneven as they are not best suited  for the Verdian repertoire. As a result while this may be an HD transmission I believe that this revival of La Traviata will be nothing special.    

This will be part of the Live in HD series at the Met.

BREAKING NEWS: Salvatore Licitra is fighting for his life

Italian Tenor Salvatore Licitra is fighting for his life after a serious car accident. Licitra has suffered extensive injuries to his head and chest and has undergone surgery. The accident occurred as as Licitra was traveling to Modica in Sicily. 

Licitra rose to fame in 2002 when he replaced Luciano Pavarotti at the Metropolitan Opera and since then he has become one of the most important tenors of today. A few weeks ago Licitra was part of a high profile cancellation at the Met as he was to star in Ernani.

We wish him the best and for a quick recovery. For more information in Spanish click here  

update: the police has confirmed that Licitra was not wearing a helmet while riding a scooter; he lost control, and fell. His girlfriend, who was with him, is unharmed. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ernani Preview 2011-12

Ernani returns to the Met with an all star cast headlined by rising star Angela Meade.

The Production
In 1983 Pier Luigi Samaritani made his debut directing Ernani. The production staged by Samaritani is made up by a group of tableaux vivants behind gauzes, with chiaroscuro lighting of the kind Spanish artists were in process of stealing from the Dutch. Overall the production is huge decorated by an oil painting that is about forty feet wide and wooden doors that look like they come from a cathedral. Peter McClintok has taken over the direction of the production and his fidelity to the text allows the story to flow. The last time the production was shown was 2008 and while it is 28 years old the production still looks refreshing and new.    

The Cast
Marcello Giordani and Robert De Biasio may be playing the title role this season but the reason for this revival is rising star, soprano Angela Meade. Meade made her unexpected Met debut in 2008, replacing an ill Sondra Radvanovsky, and thrilled audiences in her first professional assignment. Meade who was a winner from the National Council auditions was completely unknown until the movie "The Audition." However she was still under the radar. After her debut, many music festivals started calling her and she was able to make many debuts in other major houses. Since then she has become the star of the Caramoor Festival singing various Normas and Semiramides and she will be alternating with the likes of Anna Netrebko in Anna Bolena this year at the Met. Now the Met brings her back three years later in the role of Elvira. Coincidentally I saw the performance in which she debuted. I remember the audience asking who Meade was and upset about Radvanovksy's cancellation. However at the end of the performance Meade received the biggest ovation and stole the show from Thomas Hampson, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Marcello Giordani. Meade is still a young artist so its hard to say where she will go. Her technique and voice are still in development and her career is yet to fully blossom. However from the performance I saw, her voice is flexible, big, and suitable for both the bel canto and Verdi repertoire.While she is not the best of actresses she is able to command the stage with ease. From this first performance, there is a lot of promise in Meade going into this year's run.

Salvatore Licitra was originally scheduled to perform the title role of Ernani at the Met but cancelled without any explanation making it Licitra's second high profile cancellation at the Met. Marcello Giordani, the Met's calling card and Roberto Di Biasio, a young and upcoming tenor will sing the title role. Girodani who will get the HD performance is familiar with the Verdi repertoire and is for the most part a formidable Verdian. Three years ago he sang Ernani to mixed reception. The New York Times stated that Giordani "sounded at one moment like an important tenor and at others like an imperfect work in progress." When Giordani sings in his middle register he is able to phrase beautifully and sound great. However when he goes to his higher register, Giordani has no control and ends up sounding uncomfortable. His breath control is not the strongest, a problem for singers attempting Verdi cabalettas. While my impression of his Ernani was good, I don't think Giordani will ever become a great Ernani.

Roberto De Biasio is a young tenor who made his Met debut last season in the role of Gabirele Adorno in Simon Boccanegra. Having only sung for four years prior to this debut he was hailed for his "confidence and muscular tenor." Like Meade he is young and his voice has not completely developed. He still has rough patches and some unevenness to his voice. However, from his debut he looks promising and should make a fine Ernani.    

Ferruccio Furlanetto returns to the role of Silva, a role he sang three years ago and which has become a staple to his career. Furlanetto was hailed for his complete interpretation and for being committed to the villainous role of Silva. Today's leading Verdi bass Furlanetto has a huge voice that is able to overpower any one of his colleagues. His voice while lush is also vigorous and rich. His stage presence and his acting abilities are like none other. Now in his 60s Furlanetto is able to transmit every emotion the music requires even if he sometimes reverts to shouting and pushing. His voice while not as fresh as in his youth is still amazing. His interpretation of Silva without a doubt will be a complete and great performance this year.

Dimitri Hvorostovsky returns to the Met in yet another Verdi role, Don Carlo. Hvorostovsky in recent years has dedicated his career to Verdi. Hvorostovsky, a lyric baritone, is not a natural Verdi baritone. As a result of this, Hvorostovsky has damaged his voice by pushing his way through the music due to the heavy orchestrations and heavy ensembles. The timbre that was once beautiful has become dry and coarse. His breath control is unstable which makes it hard for him to sing many sections. I don't know how well Hvorostovsky will do in this role but I do know that he will struggle when it comes to the strettas and through the heavy ensembles. 

Ernani is one of the most beautiful early Verdi operas that deserves a place in the standard repertoire. While this cast is unbalanced it will make for a formidable evening at the Met.

This revival of Ernani will be part of the Live in HD series

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rodelinda Preview 2011-12

Renee Fleming returns to the Met in Handel's Rodelinda

The Production
In December 2004 the Met expanded its Handel repertoire by creating a production especially made for Renee Fleming, one of today's leading Divas and one of the Met's superstars. The production by Stephen Wadsworth is updated to 18th century Milan rather than the original 7th century. When the production opened critics hailed it because Wadsworth was able to move the story forward and allowed the characters to come to life, even the non singing roles. A year later the production was brought back and critics bestowed even more praise on the production as they stated that Handel's music was treated as drama and not as showstopping pieces. Wadsworth was diligent in making sure that there were characters interacting and that during arias there were no awkward poses. This year the Met brings back the production and one only wonders if this year it will be as great.

The Cast 
Renee Fleming returns to the role of Rodelinda, a queen who is thought to be a widow and finds herself pursued by suitors who want her throne. Fleming has become well known for her interpretations of Strauss  so it is curious to see her in a repertoire that does not really suit her voice. Her voice is able to craft a fluid phrase with ease, but she is definitely not known for her coloratura roles. Two seasons ago Fleming returned to the role of Armida at the Met, a role she had not sung for more than ten years. The results were mixed as her voice no longer had the agility and flexibility that Rossini's heroine needs. While she had gorgeous phrasing it was hard to forget the Fleming's shortcomings. However Rodelinda is a much newer opera to Fleming as she made her role debut back in 2004 to great acclaim. Rodelinda which is noted for its demands as the role has eight arias that allow Fleming to show her versatility. She was hailed for being at ease with Handel's florid music and long melodies. In 2006 she returned to the same success in the role. However critics did note that her portamentos were grandly and romantic as well as her tone consistently became cloudy and uneven. Fleming also has the tendency to create a lot of mannerisms with her voice in order to express. Overall though critics felt that Fleming was exquisite in the role. While I know that Fleming will most likely be great in the role, I must add that opera purists will most likely criticize her for being the wrong voice type for the role. Controversy will spur and most likely the audience reception will be split. 

Countertenor Andreas Scholl returns to the role of Bertarido. Scholl is one of today's leading countertenors next to David Daniels. In 2006 when he sang the role, critics raved about his stylish poised singing and his expressive acting. They also noted that he has a light and bright voice perfectly suited for the baroque repertoire.  

Stphanie Blythe also returns to the cast in the role Eduige. Her voice while big and dark may seem the wrong fit for this repertoire. However Blythe has excelled both as a contralto and a dramatic mezzo allowing her to sing the vocal demands of Wagner and the lighter fare such as Offenbach and Handel. In my Aida preview I noted that Blythe is not the greatest of actors and that she has the tendency of standing and singing. However Blythe has one of the most expressive voices to date allowing her limited movement to be effective. When she sang the role of Eduige in 2006 she was hailed for her power and clarity. Now in her prime I suspect she will sing even better than a few years ago.

Joseph Kaiser returns to the Met replacing the originally scheduled, Kobie Van Rensburg. Kaiser who made his debut in the role of Romeo has quickly become one of today's most appealing young tenors. Having seen Kaiser in his debut and last year in the role of Flammand in Capriccio I can honestly say that Kaiser's voice has matured into a beautiful lyric voice. He should be strong in this performance. 

Antohiny Roth Costanzo makes his met debut and Shenyang round out this outstanding cast. Harry Bicket returns to the podium in his hailed interprtation of Rodelinda.

Its refreshing to see the Met return to an opera that is not part of the standard repertoire; especially a baroque piece that has been hailed as a masterpiece.

Rodelinda is part of the Mets Live in HD.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Live Performances that Need a DVD release

Every year the opera companies record performances and bring them to the movie theaters. In the past the performances were broadcast on television, and some of these legendary performances have ended up on DVD. However, many historic video transmissions have been left on the shelf collecting dust. Youtube has provided (as you will see below) a great venue with which to watch many clips and sections of these great performances, but there is still nothing like being able to watch the entire performance through in the highest quality available and without interruptions to change video links.  The following is a wishlist of some of the best (in my opinion of course) televised/broadcast performances never distributed and should really get some major consideration.

In no particular order, here they are:

1. Il Trovatore from La Scala di Milano- This is arguably the greatest recent performance of Il Trovatore recorded as it features the complete score without any embellishments. Riccardo Muti conducts the music with energy and commitment. Salvatore Licitra still in his prime sings with lyricism and beauty. Barbara Frittoli's voice is more beautiful than ever. Her technique is flawless and her phrasing delicate. Leo Nucci provides a worthy Count while Violetta Urmana's Azucena demonstrates why she should have stayed a mezzo. Her vocal power is impressive and musicality incomparable. The production while not perfect is not an issue. However the standout here is Verdi's music which finally gets its due respect and shines in its full glory. Muti and his cast omit the frequently used high notes in order to emphasize the dramatic elements without need for vocal distractions. It is a showcase for Verdi's perfect score.

2. Faust from Lyric Opera of Chicago-This production features the forces of Alfredo Kraus, Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov. There is no better trio of singers that can match this performance. Freni sings with the passion that she embeds into all of her characters and which all young singers have come to admire. Kraus brings the elegance of his voice to the role and Ghiaurov brings a demonic color that no bass has been able to bring to role. This production is pure perfection.  

3. La Gioconda from San Francisco- This performance is  likely best known for the ensuing rupture between Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti, but that is no reason to avoid releasing this gem. Scotto, who was criticized for singing roles that were too heavy for her voice, sings this tragic role to perfection and  demonstrates why she will always be one of the greatest divas of all time. The production also features the virtuosic powers of Ferruccio Furlanetto and Luciano Pavarotti, also in their early primes.

4. Aida from the Met - This Aida features the legendary cast that includes Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, James McCraken and Simon Estes, all arguably past their primes. However, all the artists provide committed performances to end Leontyne Price's legendary career. A historic night that deserves to be immortalized on the market.

Placido Domingo has numerous performances that have been recorded but here is a list of performances that are legendary and which deserve a place on the DVD shelves of Domingo fans and other opera aficionados.

5. Die Walkure from La Scala-A Cast that includes Placido Domingo and Waltraud Meier with Riccardo  Muti conducting is a must have.In a recent interview (which I unfortunately can not find), Muti claimed to love this performance and production more than most he did. It is  rare to hear Muti conducting Wagner, but he proves to be a worthy  interpreter. However the reason for a DVD is Domingo's groundbreaking interpretation of Sigmund: A interpretation that would change Wagner's Sigmund forever. Instead of growling heard by most Sigmund's today, there was youth and charisma. Domingo's lyricism is arguably the best since the days of Windgassen and Melchior.  Many may not agree with me but this is a career changing role for Domingo.  

6. La Traviata from the Met-A performance which features Domingo, Cortrubas and McNeil. Who could wish for more? The leading Verdi interpreters of their generation, this production is one of the best Met telecasts in the company's history. Cortruba's sweet voice may not have the dramatic color for the last two acts. However her sweetness is fitting as it adds delicacy and fragile colors to the role of Violetta. Domingo demonstrates that he has a great lyric tenor. McNeil is chilling as Germont and James Levine's conducting adds urgency to Verdi's masterpiece.

6. La Forza del Destino from the Met- This production features Placido Domingo with a relatively youthful cast. Sharon Sweet, Vladimir Chernov, and Roberto Scanduizzi. Domingo adds dignity to the character to this most complex of Verdi characters. His singing may not be his most consistent, but it is hard to deny how good an artist Domingo is in this performance. Sweet is a revelation in the role of Leonora and Chernov brings youth to the character of Carlo.

7. Otello from the Met and La Scala- While I know that there are already four recordings of Placido in the role of Otello, these two represent the early interpretations of his signature role. They are both tremendous in their own individual and worthy of a release. They also feature some of the best interpreters of Otello including Mirella Freni, Pierro Cappucilli and Sherill Milnes. Levine and Carlos Kleiber are the featured conductors. For my money, Kleiber is the clearcut winner, but the Met version has many redeeming qualities as well.

8.The Queen of Spades at the Met-This performance shows Placido Domingo in a different repertoire. While he is not known for his Russian interpretations, this role is a staple and one of the most memorable performances of Domingo's career. It also features the russian prima donnas Galina Gorchakova and Olga Borodina. Dimitri Hvorostovsky is also at his best, singing with beauty and passion.

9. Lusia Miller from the Royal Opera House- While the Met performance is my favorite, this performance features the leading interpreter Katia Ricciarelli. Ricciarelli was recognized for her singing and embodying each character she played. This Lusia Miller is an example of what she was capable of doing as a singing actress. Domingo sings with the same ardor and drama that he does in the Met performance. Renato Bruson is heard here in his prime. Here he exhibits his qualities as a leading Verdi baritone. While there is a CD  release there is nothing like actually watching these performers act out these roles. I will say however that the costuming here is in pretty bad taste. However, the singing alone merits a release.

10. Carmen at the Met-Domingo and Meier united for this controversial production of Carmen and while many did not like it, the two provided some compelling drama in this iconic battle. Meier may not have the ideal voice for Carmen but she is a first-rate actress and Domingo demonstartes why this was one of his signature roles. The performance also features Angela Gheorghiu in her controversial wig but singing beautifully nonetheless. It may not be Zeffirelli's best production but the performers are truly compelling.

11. Madama Butterfly at the Met-The great singing actress Catherine Malfitano added her dramatic gifts to the role of Cio Cio San. While not in her prime Malfitano's interpretation was a landmark in her Met repertoire. Malfitano is able to mix both dramatic power while still maintaining the girlish qualities of Cio Cio San. The production by Giancarlo del Monaco creates an intimate space that even Minghella's extraordinarily beautiful production is incapable of doing. The production also features the gifts of Richard Leech who unfortunately disappeared from the stages. Dwayne Croft also adds his signature Sharpless.

12. Maria Stuarda from Munich-Edita Gruberova is arguably the queen of Belcanto and it is a shame that none of her early telecasts have been released. The reason I chose this over her thrilling Lucia or her Donizetti queens is because in this production Gruberova is matched by the incomparable Agnes Balsta. Together they recorded I Capuletti e Montecchi, making it in my opinion the greatest interpretation to date. Their voices mesh so wonderfully and chemistry rivals even that of Callas-Simoniato. This performance is both thrilling and captivating and demonstrates how great Donizetti's music can be. The cast also features a young Simone Alaimo and the great Francisco Araiza.

13. I Lombradi from the Met-The performance features the premiere of I Lombardi at the Met. Luciano Pavarotti sang Oronte with passion and ardor. He brought his signature lyricism that was customary when he sang Verdi. Lauren Flanigan was spectacular as Giselda and Samuel Ramey added his beautiful bass to the role of Pagano. A highlight of this performance was the death scene trio and the violin solo played by Raymond Gniewek which preludes to the trio. 

14. Andrea Chenier at the Met-The phenomenal cast included Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Guleghina and Juan Pons. In my opinion, this was Guleghina's show. Guleghina, a young artist back then was sensational and her voice while never perfect, demonstrated the passion and drama necessary for the role Maddalena. Pavarotti gave a worthy account of Chenier while Pons demonstrated that even the most villainous characters can have good qualities.

15. Don Giovanni from the Met 1990: Franco Zefferelli's later Met production of this Mozart masterpiece was released on DVD a few years ago starring a stellar cast headlined by Bryn Terfel and Renee Fleming. However, this Don Giovanni, starring Samuel Ramey, Feruccio Furlanetto, a young Karita Matilla, and the late Jerry Hadley amongst others is arguably the better performance. The Commentatore scene in particular is easily the scariest version of any out there. This Don Giovanni could easily be considered the definitive in many respects.

16. Le nozze de Figaro at the Met 1998: Featuring an all-star cast including the talents of Bryn Terfel in the title role, Cecilia Bartoli tackling another soprano role, Renee Fleming singing at her best as the Countess, Dwayne Croft, and Paul Plishka amongst others, this is a tremendous achievement. The production by Jonathon Miller is nothing short of gorgeous and James Levine provides one of his best interpretations heard on the Met stage. While controversial, Bartoli's inclusion and omission of arias makes for an interesting historic document in addition to being a marvelous overall performance.

17. Cosi Fan Tutte at the Met 1996: From top to bottom this is Cosi Fan Tutte is a demonstration of perfect Mozart casting. Susan Mentzer, Cecilia Bartoli, Jerry Hadley, Dwayne Croft, Thomas Allen, Carol Vaness join forces under the baton of James Levine (in all of his glory) to create one of the most fulfilling performances of Mozart the Met has ever captured.

18. Billy Budd from the Met-As I mentioned in my Billy Budd preview, the New York Times called this production a landmark for the Met. It features the villainous interpretation of James Morris and Dwayne Croft's youthful voice. It also features the art of the late Phillip Langridge. The production by John Dextor is perfection and Steuart Bedford conducts his last Met Performances.

19. L'Contes d'Hoffman from the Met-This is the magical Otto Schenk production that was replaced by the messy Bartlett Sher production. It features legendary singers Neil Shicoff, Tatiana Troyanos, James Morris and Roberta Alexander. The highlight here is Giuletta's act which features the great barcarole sung with charm and seduction by Troyanos. Charles Dutoit in a rare Met appearance conducts Offenbach's score with great energy.

20. Romeo et Juliette from Los Angeles Opera House-This production features the golden couple, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in their brief prime together. For years they were the toast of the opera world before their split in the disastrous Lucia di Lammermoor at Met in 2009. However this performance features them at the height of their collective power. Anna Netrebko's voice is dark hued yet sweet while Villazon is at the prime of his voice. Their chemistry represents one of the best heard by any duo in years and as actors they are compelling and captivating.

This is my list but their are plenty of other great performances that have not released. Please share your lists of performances you would like to see released in the near future.

Siegfried sells like wild fire

Yesterday the Metropolitan Opera opened tickets sales to the general public and as I had stated in a prior article the most popular operas of the batch were Anna Bolena, Gotterdammerung, and Siegfried. However what I didn't realize was that out of these three shows it is Siegfried that is entirely sold out.

So if your were dying to see this opera this year, its virtually impossible.

Of the Anna Bolena performances there are still some seats left for the opening night gala and the October and February performances and Gotterdammerung still has a good amount of tickets. However do not wait because these tickets will probably sell quickly.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Satyagraha Preview 2011-12

Satyagraha returns to the Met in a highly acclaimed production

Production                                                                                                                                                 In a movement to expand the Met repertory Peter Gelb has brought never performed modern and baroque operas to the Met. This year he brings back Phillip Glass's masterpiece Satyagraha after a sold out run. In an attempt to bring it to the regular repertory Gelb has revived these productions more frequently than usual. The production by Phelim McDermott is made up of video projections, improvisational puppetry by a small ensemble of movement performers. Newspaper is also used in a variety of ways including the use of it for a series of large puppets which represent the oppression of minorities in South Africa. According to director McDermott, these puppets are supposed to be grotesque and yet comical. In addition the newspapers are also an inspiration of the way Gandhi used to promote his message on the media. An original aspect of this production is that there are no subtitles even though the opera is written and sung in Sanskrit. According to McDermott the opera is a meditation and therefore having subtitles distracts from the experience. When the production opened in 2008 it was hailed as a stunning and captivating production as well as a visually inventive work of art.  The production is a co-production with the English National opera. 

The Cast 
Richard Croft reprises the role of Gandhi after a successful run of Das Rheingold. Croft has a lyric tenor voice that is capable of conveying joy and sadness. Last year when I saw Croft in the role of Loge, Croft was thrilling, funny and most importantly credible. As an actor he is excellent and when on stage he becomes the character and one forgets that one is watching Richard Croft. A committed performer it was reported that Croft lost 100 pounds to prepare for the role of Gandhi.  When Croft sang Gandhi in 2008 he was hailed for investing himself in the role with fitting, and radiant simplicity. In addition critics hailed him for his subtly and his plaintive tones

Rachelle Durkin who has been at the Met for a long time returns to the role Miss Schlesen. Last year Durkin failed to impress replacing Anna Netrebko in the role of Norina in Don Pasquale as her vocal line was unfocused and shrill. However this was not the case when she sang the role of Miss. Schlesen, Gandhi's scottish secretary. In this role she carried the top vocal line impressively

Alfred Walker and Kim Josephson also join the cast and Dante Anzolini returns to the podium to conduct Phillip Glass's score as enthusiastically as he did in 2008. Anzolini was criticized for his slow tempos and for not making the orchestra's presence felt at times. However, Anzolini was still able to keep the urgency that Glass's music has. 

Glass is not an easy composer as his music gets repetitive. No matter how vivid the production is it won't convert traditional opera goers. However if you are looking for modern music from one of today's masters, Satygraha is a good idea.

Satyagraha will be presented in HD this year as part of the Live in HD series.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Recording Reccomendations for Madama Butterfly

This is yet another opera that has a plethora of recordings that are widely seen as great recordings.

Puccini: Madame ButterflyThis recording features the incomparable Victoria de los Angeles in her signature role. De los Angeles' voice was capable of expressing every emotion that Cio Cio San has during the opera. The recording features the vocal powers of Giuseppe Di Stefano and Tito Gobbi. A highlight of this recording is the duet at the end of act 1 featuring great chemistry between the two leads. It is probably the best recording out there.

Puccini: Madama Butterfly (complete opera) with Maria Callas, Lucia Danieli, Nicolai Gedda, Herbert von Karajan, Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala, Milan

 Maria Callas may have sung Madama Butterfly very few times on stage but she left a testament of her interpretation in this successful recording. Her voice is in her prime and like most of her recordings Maria Callas makes Cio Cio San another one of her signature roles. The problem here is that the rest of the cast is not as strong, so Callas is really the highlight of  this recording.

Puccini: Madama Butterfly Highlights
This is Mirella Freni's show as she adds her sweet lyric voice and transforms it into a dramatic voice like never before. Luciano Pavarotti and Christa Ludwig add to the luxury casting making this recording a must have. Herbert Von Karajan adds new colors to Puccini's score.

Puccini: Madama ButterflyRenata Scotto made Cio Cio San one of her signature roles from the beginning of her career. This recording shows the power and drama that Scotto always added to the roles she sang. Many times people will complain about her hard edged singing but in this recording she shifts between sweet girl like colors and hard edged singing to create a complex Butterfly. Placido Domingo sings with youthful charisma and beautiful phrasing.

Puccini: Madama ButterflyThis Met DVD represents the best live performance of Madama Butterfly out now on DVD and the current Met production. In addition it includes the leads who will be singing this year. Through the closeups one is able to see Minghella's intricate staging and subtle details that one is not able to see from the back of the audience. The costumes and sets are striking and the direction is very elegant and focused.

And these are some selections from the artists singing this year.

AriasLiping Zhang who will sing the title role brings us a CD filled with of the staples of the Italian repertoire including "Un Bel di vedremo" which previews how she may sing this aria.

Richard Wagner: Scenes from Tristan und Isolde
This CD shows Robert Dean Smith in his best role Tristan und Isolde, a role he triumphed in at the Met. While not exactly Italian repertoire it is great to hear Smith in his best work.

For more information check out the Madama Butterfly preview

Monday, August 8, 2011

Interesting Rigoletto Development: Wilbur, La Scala, Parterre

This is an update from my past Rigoletto post a few days ago.

Do we really want to pay big money to see a massive black screen and Ikea furniture on stage for 3 hours?
UPDATE: I posted this article on the Met facebook page. It has since been taken down from their page. More interesting is that Wilbur has taken down his page and "retired." And to make things more interesting, Parterre Blog has "a hunch" that Bondy won't be directing Rigoletto at the Met anymore. Lot's of interesting coincidences all in one.

Obviously the Met does not want people to know their future season plans ahead of schedule. It would kill the hype of revealing the next season. But more importantly, is this production still in the plans? George Gagnidze's schedule certainly indicates that he will be singing Rigoletto at the Met next year, so there is no doubt about that. The question is will we get the Rigoletto production next year or at all? According to La Scala website and page on Rigoletto, their new production (the same one from Vienna) is also a co-production with the Met (Vienna just opened it, La Scala opens it in 2011-12, which is the perfect time for the Met to do likewise). However, Parterre dedicated a short post to mentioning the fact that an American director would the new man in charge of Rigoletto. It could be just a hunch, but makes for an interesting development none the less. 

Wilbur's surprising "retirement" out of the blue makes me wonder about the Met's involvement. Obviously he was on to something that was not supposed to be published. 

In any case, this is an interesting development. To be honest, I would be ESTATIC if the Met decided not to go along with the Bondy Rigoletto. He already destroyed Tosca with his unfocused/chaotic production (as a result my family, which subscribes yearly to the Met will not see Tosca until we get something better to look at). An American director could prove to bring something just as bad or worse, but in past experiences, it seems that they have a stronger sense of what the Met public not only expects, but demands from its productions. Unfortunately, at the moment, La Scala has the most convincing position/statement of all. 

Stay tuned...

Netrebko sings Verdi

It is rare to hear Anna Netrebko sing Verdi now a days as she has retired the role of Gilda and Nannetta and rarely sings Violetta any more. However during the last two submit star concerts, Netrebko has treated her fans to none other than two Verdi selections. While I must admit her singin is far from perfect and still needs some work, she may be hinting at a new direction in her career. The following link leads to the blog Parterre which has clips of Il Trovatore and I Lombardi. Enjoy and share your thoughts on the DIVA.

Billy Budd Preview 2011-12

Billy Budd returns to the met for the first time in more than a decade starring the leading interpreter of the role Nathan Gunn.

The Production
John Dexter's 1978 production returns. It was hailed back in 1997 as one of his greatest achievements and one of the Met's most successful productions ever staged.  The set by William Dudley confines the action within a multi-tiered ship. While I still have yet to see the production I expect it to maintain its vibrancy and spectacle that it had in 97. 

The Cast 
Based on Herman Melville's last Novella, Billy Budd tells the tale of an innocent young sailor who falls from grace and is executed due to the treachery of the malevolent Claggart. In order to successfully perform this opera great singing actors are needed. This year the leading interpreter of the title role Nathan Gunn sings his first Billy Budd at the Met. James Morris returns to his acclaimed interpretation of Claggart. 

Nathan Gunn made his debut at the Met in 1995 in the Ghost of Versailles but did not get his first leading role at the Met until 2005 in "An American Tragedy." Since then Gunn has become a sought after artist for his Mozart and contemporary music interpretations all around the world. His Billy Budd interpretation has been hailed as "the very embodiment of Billy's untroubled youth and vigor." His voice has been praised for "encompassing the easy lilt and fall of Billy's vocal lines" as well as for singing with "lusty precision in the opera's most highly dramatic moments." It is no doubt that his recording which he made with Virgin Classics under the great Daniel Harding won the Grammy for best opera recording a couple of years ago.  

John Daszak joins Nathan Gunn in the role of Vere in his Met debut. Daszak is a quickly rising star who has quickly established himself for his diverse repertoire. His voice has been acclaimed for its flexibility, and beauty. In addition Daszak is becoming well known for his intelligence, and effortless characterization.'

James Morris rounds out the cast returning to the satanic character of Claggart, a role he has sung ever since the Met premiered it in 1978. His imposing presence makes him right for the role as he is a great actor and as a result it has become one of his signature roles. When he first sang the role at the Met, Morris was hailed as being thoroughly convincing and was even called the perfect incarnation of Satan  in mans clothing. As I mentioned in my previous Aida and Tosca previews Morris may not be in his prime but he is still a pleasure to watch on the stage.

While I may not be a Britten fan, I must admit this cast is a perfect reason to go see the opera. Britten's gem is rarely performed and with Nathan Gunn in the title role it is a must see this year. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sold out Tickets at the Met!

Today the Metropolitan Opera box office opened to Patrons and Subscribers at 11am, ONE hour before  the original scheduled opening. Crowds of people started lining up at 7am in the morning to make sure they were able to get their first choices.But many came out disappointed with the results. Many tickets for the Ring Cycle and for Anna Bolena were already sold out. Nabucco surprisingly was also a popular ticket. And the tickets are not even available to the general public yet (not until next Sunday in fact).

As a Family Circle veteran I expected to get tickets to my referred shows easily. Afterall, it's only one week before the mass public gets a chance to sell out shows. However, when it was my turn to buy and exchange I was offered tickets for Anna Bolena with Angela Meade because the Netrebko tickets were scarce or sold out. Tickets for Siegfried, Gotterdammerung and Rheingold tickets were almost non existent. That means that if you want to see Anna Netrebko in Anna Bolena, prepare to either see her in February or pay top dollar for expensive seats. As for the Ring operas, prepare to dish out $300 plus or forget about fulfilling your Wagner crave this year (actually, those who hoped to see Siegfried or Gotterdammerung may never get to see it outside of a cycle).  Having went to the Met last year on this same day, I was surprised with the line and the crowd as it was similar to that of a rush tickets line. I was even approached by a woman who asked me if it was a rush ticket line. Sadly I told her it wasn't. The wait was at least 4 hours for those who arrived late and the activity did not calm down. When I finally purchased my tickets it was already 1pm and the line was already out the door.

What does it mean to the rest of the general public? It means people should start lining up at 6 am in front of the box office on August 14 to ensure or at least try to get tickets. However don't expect Anna Bolena, or Ring cycle tickets. You probably won't get any.

(It is important to note that I am referring to Family Circle as this where I sit, but the vendors did tell me that these aforementioned shows were hot tickets and were selling out in general.)       

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Luc Bondy has his way at the Met again!

As I was looking at BradWilber's blog, a blog dedicated to previewing the future Met seasons, I realized that Luc Bondy will be producing a new Rigoletto for 2012-13 season. As a result I searched for production pictures and guess what I found? Yup I found pictures of the new stark looking set with yet more "Ikea looking furniture" and unpleasing costumes.  Take a look at this production and start saying good bye to Otto Schenk's beautiful looking production which might I add was never put on video. We'll have our memories to remember how wonderful it was.

Singer George Gagnidze performs on stage during a dress rehearsal of Guiseppe Verdi's opera "Rigoletto" at Theater an der Wien in Vienna May 25, 2011. The opera is directed by Luc Bondy and will premiere on May 29 as part of the Wiener Festwochen 2011 (Vienna festival).

According to George Gagnidze's website the opera will be shown around April 7-23 2013.
The cast includes Diana Damrau, Nino Machaidze, Vittorio Grigolo, George Gagnidze and Zeljko Lucic.

And one more thing to add. Here are some links to reviews of the Vienna Festival opening and believe me they are not good.

Tell me what you think of these "wonderful" pictures.

UPDATE: I posted this article on the Met facebook page. It has since been taken down from their page. More interesting is that Wilbur has taken down his page and "retired." And to make things more interesting, Parterre Blog has "a hunch" that Bondy won't be directing Rigoletto at the Met anymore. Lot's of interesting coincidences all in one.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recording Reccomendations for Nabucco

There are very few interpreters of Nabucco because of the difficulty of the piece but those who sing it are master of the work.

Nabucco / Act 3 - Chorus: "Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate"This is my favoirte recording of the work as I believe that Ghena Dimitrova is the greatest interpreter of Abigaille. Her voice while lush and beautiful is also dramatic and capable of expressing all of the characters feelings. In addition, she has the perfect voice for the role as she has both the low and high notes. Cappuccilli adds his beautiful voice to the role of Nabucco with such care and understanding for the role. Finally to add to the impressive cast Placido Domingo actually makes something out of the short tenor role of Ismaele

Verdi: Nabucco (complete Opera)Renata Scotto surprisingly recorded the role of Abigaille and believe it or not is wonderfully sung. Her voice may not be the most suitable for the role and sometimes may sound a bit harsh. However this harshness adds to the role of Abigaille. In addition her phrasing in her death scene is some of most dramatic yet subtle singing I have ever heard from Scotto. Matteo Manguerra adds his interpretation to the role of Nabucco and Nicolai Ghiaurov sings in my opinion one of the the best interpretations of Zaccaria ever recorded.  

Verdi: NabuccoIf we talk about Nabucco Elena Suliotis must be in the conversation as her interpretation of Abigaille was acclaimed. Her vocal power and beauty may be for some to pretty but Suliotis adds drama to her singing. Her vocal range is easily displayed by solid top notes and exceptionally powerful low notes. She is accompanied by none other than Tito Gobbi who while recorded it late in his career adds great singing. The chemistry of the leads is also easily heard in their duet.  

Nabucco-Comp OperaI don't want to forget about Maria Callas who basically reinserted the role of Abigaille into the repertoire. Like most of the roles she sang, she adds her dramatic power and a few e flats on the way. It is rare to find this CD as it is one of Callas early roles which sadly she quickly retired. She is a one of a kind Abigaille who I really can not compare with anyone else. 

There are plenty of DVDs out of this opera which include Maria Guleghina's exceptional Met DVD (The current production at the Met) which displays Guleghina in her prime. Here she displays her acting abilities and a good balanced voice. While the voice has never been perfect especially in the coloratura or high notes she demonstrates why she is today's leading interpreter of Abigaille. Guleghina is joined by Juan Pons and Samuel Ramey and conducted by James Levine. The other DVD which I recommend is the Scala DVD which includes none other than Ghena Dimitrova. Here we see not just her vocal abilities but also her acting abilities. Believe me it is not disappointing. It is truly amazing. She is joined by Renato Bruson and Riccardo Muti.   
Verdi: NabuccoVerdi - Nabucco / Muti, Bruson, Dimitrova, Burchuladze, Becaria, Pierotti, La Scala

As for the artists performing this year

Maria Guleghina who is a Verdi specialist has plenty of DVDs available. Other than the Nabucco DVD I would probably recommend the Macbeth from the Met which also stars Zeljko Lucic who will also be starring in Nabucco this. This DVD shows their chemistry and is a great preview for what the Nabucco could be like.  There is also another Nabucco with Leo Nucci from Vienna starring Guleghina.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsFor more information on Nabucco check out my Nabucco preview.