Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Faust Premieres tonight

The new production Des McAnuff opens tonight at the Metropolitan Opera. They will stream it live on at Metopera.org

For more information check out my Faust Preview

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Preview of the new MET Eugene Onegin

As it was previously reported the MET will produce a new production of Eugene Onegin by Deborah Warner. The production is a co-production with the English National Opera where it was highly praised for its engrossing and atmospheric quality.

Here is a video and a couple of pictures

"Eugene Onegin"

Friday, November 18, 2011

La Boheme opens tonight

Franco Zeffirelli's stunning production of La Boheme returns to the Met.

For more information click here 

No Siegfried for Lehman this Season Afterall

It has just been announced that  “Jay Hunter Morris will sing the role of Siegfried in Siegfried on April 21 matinee and April 30, 2012, and in Götterdämmerung on May 3, 2012. He replaces Gary Lehman who has withdrawn due to illness.” 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rodelinda Opens Tonight

Renne Fleming returns to the role of Rodelinda with a stellar cast that includes Stephanie Blythe and Andreas Scholl

For more information click here (Rodelinda Preview)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Met Opera Review: Stellar Cast Compensates for Dull, Safe "Don Giovanni" Production

By David Salazar (For 11.11.11 Performances)

Mozart's "Don Giovanni" is one of those fascinatingly ambiguous works of art that are endlessly reinterpreted both in an academic and performance context. When a new production is set to come out, there is always a sense of anticipation as to how the events and characters will be portrayed on stage. "What is the new angle?" is generally the question that comes to mind, one which not many of the cornerstones of the operatic repertoire (save for Wagner's works) can really claim to have.

The same question was posed for the Met's latest production by Tony Award Winning Director Michael Grandage. Prior to Grandage's latest attempt, director Marthe Keller offered a relatively conservative approach to the opera in 2004 after 14 years of Franco Zeffirrelli's two visually stunning, but traditional productions. What I mean by conservative in this context is that the stage design and visuals such as costuming and furniture hew closely to the librettist's intentions with regards to time period. Both Zeffirelli and Keller's productions, while different (Keller's staging was less elaborate than Zeffirelli, though no less engaging and satisfactory) essentially gave its audience what is generally expected of this great work. This is by no means a negative comment whatsoever. So naturally a new production means a new direction.

Except that this is not the case. The problem is not that Grandage simply continues that which Zeffirelli and Keller did before them. The problem is that this one lacks the grandiosity of the Zeffirelli or the mood and tone of Keller's. It is simply safe and because of the caution, dull and boring. I can't really blame Grandage for his cautious nature. The Met audience has become rather difficult to please with these new high concept productions (ask Mary Zimmerman about her "Sonnambula") and "Don Giovanni" with its plot filled with rape, violence, and intrigue has been the object of tasteless productions around the world (see Barcelona or Salzburg's productions). But there is certainly great disappointment with the feeling that this conservative production is a step down from what the Met used to have. More importantly, if there was no new idea being expressed about the opera, why get rid of something that already fulfilled the same ideas, and did them better no less. Seems like a pointless exercise in money wasting and certainly not the artistic progress expected from the world's greatest Opera House.

I would not call Grandage's "Don Giovanni" a bad production. Bad production is one in which the effort looks unfinished and the actors look lost on stage (see this season's new "Anna Bolena"). The problem is that the opera becomes rather bland and predictable. There is no play on any of the characters' ambiguities. There is a certain restraint in all of the aforementioned elements (the violence, sex, and intrigue). This is a Don Giovanni that we have seen again and again. This lack of insight or depth makes me wonder where Grandage's attention was when directing this production, especially when one looks at the production's main attraction and greatest gimmick: the high walls filled with rows and rows of doors that open and close without any really method or direction.

This production had so much potential. After all, this is the story of multiple characters with their own secrets hidden behind doors and closets, things that they may not want other characters to see or know. Add in the fact that we are seeing upwards of 30 doors on stage at the time and you wonder about the possibilities of what could be seen when one opens or closes, etc. Not only a great possibility to depict individual characters, but to create the world. Who else lives behind all those doors? How do they interact with the main characters? An example of this missed opportunity is during Leoporello's "Madamina" aria in Act 1. As he relates the catalog of women that Don Giovanni has loved, the doors open on the left wall to reveal many women. Then the doors on the right do the same. Then the two walls slide off stage and the row of doors in the back does exactly the same exact thing. But the catch here is that we don't really get any emphasis on the text. It is just a random conglomeration of women hanging out and doing nothing. Even worse is that since the doors open without any sense of sequence, the effect loses focus and direction as the viewer is overloaded with too many things happening at once. Maybe one group of women in some sort of order and with different tasks or visual depictions would not only add to Leoporello's narrative and give the audience something to immerse them into the production. Instead, it all looks like superfluous clutter that probably would not have been missed had it not been included. This is all the more frustrating when one considers how distracting this ploy is to the great acting of Luca Pisaroni and Barbara Frittoli in this sequence. At the end of the opera when the remaining characters enter Giovanni's palace to see what has become of him the doors are used in an outrageously distracting and confusing manner. The characters hed down stage and the walls close up the center of the stage behind them and moments later they open up to reveal an empty space. Why they needed to open up again seems pointless considering that if they are to open up there is an anticipation of something revelatory happening. Instead we get an empty space. Essentially they closed the doors to get rid of a table and move the back wall. More importantly, if there was no big reveal at the end, why even bother with the closing and reopening to begin with. The only result is to distract from the gorgeous singing on stage.

Fortunately, there are salvageable aspects of this production. The dances are well choreographed and incorporated into the production. The end of Act 1 and Don Giovanni's manner of escaping the trap set by his enemies is refreshingly exciting. The iconic scene at the end of the opera is also well staged with prostitutes, a drunk Don Giovanni, an attempted rape and the doors are finally put to novel use. AND... there are jets of fire that spit up from the ground.

But I think that the night's greatest remedy was the singing and acting from the stellar cast. And I mean STELLAR. Not one person on stage showed any sign of weakness. Mariusz Kwiecien was the perfect Don Giovanni. Leading the way with a dynamic voice that not only filled the house with its strength, but also drew one in with its suave elegant pianissimo phrases during the famous "Vieni alla Finestra" in Act 2. He seemed invincible moving around with agility and such presence that dwarfed all the other characters around him. This was no evil villain, this was a charismatic "Bad Boy" capable of not only seducing every woman on stage but every audience member into forgetting about his evil nature. The choice to be drunk in the final scene only added to the credibility of this man's lack of fear for death. His inebriation not only of the wine, but of his power made him so arrogant of his godliness that it was only logical for him to have no fear in the face of death. Despite other great performances at the Met, this was Kwiecien's first true star role. Even though he was in jeopardy of missing out completely due to an untimely injury before the premiere, he was able to make it in time for this memorable triumph.

Venezuelan Bass-Baritone Luca Pisaroni was fantastic as Giovanni's sidekick Leoporello. His singing was equally robust and his diction was filled with such a high level precision, an especially important aspect for the comic timing of Leoporello. And make no mistake, he was hilarious throughout the night: Running away from Don Giovanni and then running back for his money like a little lapdog getting his treat; crawling away from the statue; attempting exaggerated poses as Giovanni during the serenading of Donna Elvira. His Leoporello was a perfect foil to Kwiecien's Giovanni: nowhere near as confident or athletic, clumsy, and weak both physically and emotionally. But this only emphasized the master-servant relationship between the two characters. I would have loved to see Pisaroni take the flirting with Donna Elvira in his Act 1 aria further, but this is far from his fault. I put it on Grandage for not pushing him further.

Had the rest of the cast not been equally stellar, Marina Rebeka could have easily stolen the show as Donna Anna. The Latvian Soprano, who made her debut in this role this season, sang with such poise and elegance. Her vocal abilities could never be called into question. In this respect, she seemed invincible. Her demanding coloratura passages were even and fluid and her entire range was effortless and pure. Polished does not even come close to describing her excellent voice. Her acting didn't hurt matters. Her Anna may not have been the most original interpretation (again this is on Grandage for not pushing the subtext), but she had dignity and a sense of strength that dominated all around her. Kwiecien's Don Giovanni dominates the drama, but Rebeka's Anna provides his ideal dramatic counterpart and nemesis.

Barbara Frittoli's wondrously sung Donna Elvira provides the perfect counterpart to Rebeka's Anna. Her Elvira was powerless and desperate. Elvira's character is often ridiculed for her obsessive nature, but Frittoli, while maintaining the melodramatic nature of the character, gave her character a tragic dimension, singing "Mi Tradi" as if the character was dying of pain and sorrow. Her singing throughout was breathtaking in its level of expressiveness and depth.

Ramon Vargas, the night's Don Ottavio, had one of the most incredible moments I have ever witnessed on the Met Stage when he sang his "Dalla Sua Pace." It is impossible for me to describe how softly he sang the aria, but the entire house went quiet for those few minutes, the orchestra barely audible. All was still as Vargas drew everyone in with his gorgeous pianissimo tone. The moment was  ethereal and sublime. Those words are not good enough to describe how fantastical that singing was. His second aria "Il Mio Tesoro" was sung with strength and tremendous breath support. One coloratura passage that most singers separate into two and sometimes three breaths in the middle of the aria was sung here in just ONE breath like a Luigi Alva or Francisco Araiza would have done (major proponents of this role). On this night, Vargas proved that he continues to be one of the most elegant and exciting tenors of today.

I am running out of superlatives for describing the singers. Mojca Erdmann was every bit as remarkable as her counterparts, giving Zerlina naive delicacy while maintaining sweetness and ease in her voice. During her second aria "Vedrai Carino" she added an interpolated high note during the cadenza that was breathtaking in its sweep. She was coquettish and playful in that same scene with Masetto, a sturdy Joshua Bloom. In my Siegfried review, I mentioned that I was excited to see Erdmann in this performance after her impressive interpretation of the Bird in Wagner's epic. She did not disappoint. Stefan Kocan was imposing as Il Commentatore

Louis Langree had the difficult task of filling in not only for James Levine, but for Fabio Luisi who shared the run with Langree. Both Levine and Luisi are high profile conductors noted for their  finesse and refinement in this repertoire. But Langree is no slouch and showed that his interpretation of this iconic score was just as powerful. He chose swift tempos throughout adding great propulsion to the lengthy work. However, he never indulged his fast tempos at the expense of the singers. As I stated while relating Vargas' "Dalla Sua Pace," Langree was the ideal collaborator, never rushing or overpowering the singers on stage. However, when given the chance (such as the Final Scene), Langree showed off the orchestra's fortitude with some earth shattering chords.

From a musical standpoint, there was nothing more you could ask for from this performance. And for many, this is a sufficient reason to go to the opera. Under different circumstances, I would have been one of those many. However, since this was a new production, a new approach, a new opportunity to see this masterpiece in refreshing light, I was hoping for some revelation from the production. While it is rather unfortunate that this end of the bargain was once again left unfulfilled (see Siegfried), I was fortunate enough to be able to see new and established stars perform to their fullest and greatest capacities.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Notable CD and DVD releases for the month of November

November brings some of the most interesting releases by the most glamourous opera stars working today.
Liszt Songs

Diana Damrau's followup album features the works of Liszt. These lieder works by Liszt are little known and as a result should make for a revealing experience.

Kirsten Flagstad sings Wagner Operatic Scenes and Arias
Rare recordings of legendary Wagnerian Kirsten Flagstad appear for the first time on CD. The album features scenes from her signature roles including Brunhilde and Isolde.

The incomparable soprano Marlis Petersen reveals her most vulnerable side in this new production of La Traviata. The production by Peter Konwitschny may not appeal to conservative opera viewers but Petersen is a performer not to be missed.

Berg: Lulu
The leading Lulu of our time Patricia Petibon reveals her darkest side in this new DVD released by Deutshe Grammophon. Michael Boder conducts the Liceu orchestra with passion and intimacy.

Controversial director Calixto Bieito brings eroticism to Bizet's Carmen. The extraordinary cast features the legendary Beatrice Uria-Monzon, Robert Alagna, rising star Marina Poplavskaya and Erwin Schrott. 
The Metropolitan opera releases Renee Fleming's thrilling Capriccio conducted by one of the world's greatest conductors Andrew Davis. 

Maria Guleghina and the late Salvatore Licitra bring their Chemistry to Franco Zeffirelli's Turandot. Live from Verona the DVD features Licitra at the height of his powers and an encore of opera's most famous Aria, "Nessun Dorma".

Salzburg Festival announces 2012 lineup

Today the Salzburg Festival announced their program for 2012. The festival includes some of the worlds most exciting artists inlcuding the Anna Netrebko (La Boheme), Elina Garanca (Verdi Requiem), Jonas Kaufmann (Carmen, Ariadne Auf Naxos &Verdi Requiem), Rene Pape (Verdi Requiem), Rolando Villazon (Il Re Patore), Placido Domingo (Tamerlano), and Cecilia Bartoli (Giulio Ceasare).

Here is the full lineup
Staged opera:
  • Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (Felsenreitschule) (Concentus Musicus Wien, Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Director: Jens-Daniel Herzog, cast: Georg Zeppenfeld, Bernard Richter, Mandy Fredrich, Julia Kleiter, Sandra Trattnigg, Anja Schlosser, Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Tölzer Knaben, Markus Werba)
  • Peter von Winter: Das Labyrinth oder der Kampf mit den Elementen(Residenzhof) (Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, Conductor: Ivor Bolton, Director: Alexandra Liedtke, cast: Christof Fischesser, Julia Novikova, Malin Hartelius, Michael Schade)
  • Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos (Wiener Philharmoniker, Conductor: Riccardo Chailly, Director: Sven-Eric Bechtolf, cast: Christof Fischesser, Emily Magee, Elena Moșuc, Eva Liebau, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Eleonora Buratto, Jonas Kaufmann, Roberto Saccà)
  • Puccini: La Bohème (Wiener Philharmoniker, Conductor: Daniele Gatti, Director: Damiano Michieletto, cast: Piotr Beczala, Anna Netrebko, Massimo Cavalletti, Nino Machaidze, Alessio Arduini, Carlo Colombara, Davide Fersini)
  • Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Die Soldaten (Wiener Philharmoniker, Conductor: Ingo Metzmacher, Director: Alvis Hermanis, cast: Alfred Muff, Laura Aikin, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, Cornelia Kallisch, Tomasz Konieczny, Stefanie Kaluza, Reinhard Mayr, Daniel Brenna, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Boaz Daniel)
  • Bizet: Carmen (Wiener Philharmoniker, Conductor: Simon Rattle, Director: Aletta Collins, cast: Magdalena Kožená, Jonas Kaufmann, Kostas Smoriginas, Genia Kühmeier, Christian van Horn, Andrè Schuen, Christina Landshamer, Rachel Frenkel). First seen at the Easter Festival
  • Handel: Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Giardino Armonico, Conductor: Giovanni Antonini, Director: Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, cast: Andreas Scholl, Cecilia Bartoli, Anne Sofie von Otter, Philippe Jaroussky, Christophe Dumaux, Jochen Kowalski). First seen at the Whitsun Festival.
Opera in concert:
  • Handel: Tamerlano (Musiciens du Louvre, Conductor: Marc Minkowski, cast: Bejun Mehta, Plácido Domingo, Julia Lezhneva, Franco Fagioli, Marianne Crebassa, Michael Volle)
  • Mozart: Il Re Pastore (Orchestra La Scintilla, Conductor: William Christie, cast: Rolando Villazón, Martina Janková, Eva Mei)
Verdi Requiem- Jonas kaufmann,Anja Harteros, Elīna Garanča and René Pape, Daniel Barenboim

from Elīna Garanča, Magdalena Kožená, Thomas Hampson, Christian Gerhaher, Matthias Goerne, Thomas Quasthoff, Juan Diego Flórez and José Carreras.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Faust Preview 2011-12

Jonas Kaufmann brings his elegant voice to the role of Faust.

The Production
Des McAnuff makes his Met debut in a production that premiered at the English National Opera. McAnuff's concept is to update Faust to the first half of the twentieth century. Faust is not just a romantic lover but also a scientist. In the production Faust travels back in time in order to try and relive his life. He goes back and sees the two World Wars. Although his pact with the Devil is overcome by his love, he still meets with death in the final moments of McAnuff's production, which return us to the gloomy laboratory of the opening scene. When the production premiered in September 2010, the production received mixed reviews. Critics stated that the production for not asking questions and for being too safe.  In addition they stated that the weakest part of the production are the set pieces such as the waltzes and chorus ensembles  making the production theatrically disappointing. 

The Cast 
While the production may not have been a total successful at the English National Opera, the Met has put together a thrilling cast.

Jonas Kaufmann leads the cast with his smoldering lyric tenor. After triumphing in Siegmund, Kaufmann returns to the lyric repertoire to show his versatilityKaufmann is known for his Italian, French and German repertoire and he has already triumphed in Tosca and Carmen at the Met as well as Travaita. Kaufmann hasn't sung Faust in years but he possesses the right voice for the role. His voice while dark has a solid middle register, and booming top notes. He is capable of producing subtle pianissmos and thrilling high notes thus phrasing like the tenors of the golden age. In addition to his voice Kaufmann is a committed actor capable of bringing audiences to many emotional states. He should be a successful Faust.

Robert Alagna and Joseph Calleja take over in January. Alagna no longer has the top register or heft to play Faust. However he specializes in French which is a plus because he knows the style of the music. The last time he sang Faust Alagna was hailed for his ardent singing but critics did note that he was vocally uneven. He may not be a polished Faust but acting wise he will be incredible.Joseph Calleja has one of the most beautiful voices to appear in the last decade. His voice is a lyrical voice with beautiful ringing high notes. His phrasing is subtle and his singing provides energy and charisma. However he has yet to demonstrate why he is one of the promising tenors of the future. In addition he is unable to express emotions and his acting lacks energy. However, I am sure Calleja will be a vocally successful Faust if nothing else.

Marina Poplavskaya once again benefits from Angela Gheorghiu's Diva behavior. Gheorghiu who was originally scheduled for the opera, withdrew because she was artistically against the production. As a result Poplavskaya was given the task to sing Marguerite. Poplavskaya made a name for herself last year when she took on none other two Verdi heroines, Violetta in La Traviata and Elisabetta in Don Carlo. Poplavskaya possesses a spinto soprano. She does not have a natural french or Italianate voice that most are used to. Instead her voice can sound strident at times and metallic. However it has warmth in her middle and lower register something that helps for the role of Marguerite. Her top range is sometimes insecure and her coloratura is sloppy. Marguerite may not be a coloratura soprano role but it is a lyric role which requires security at the top. The major question is can Poplavskaya bring depth and warmth to Marguerite as well as emotion. This is something Poplavskaya lacks even though she is a brilliant actress. She can be cold at times. Having seen her in Don Carlo she was static and looked bored. Can Poplavskaya finally launch her stardom this year or will she simply remain an understudy for sopranos like Gheorghiu.

Rene Pape returns to his triumphant portrayal of Mephistophele. From the beginning of the opera Pape becomes the devil and he is a charismatic one to. His voice is chilling, radiant, youthful, and incisive. While he may be a villain, Pape is capable of making Mephistophele into a likable and funny character. Being a great actor he and Kaufmann should have great chemistry making for a pleasant night.

Rising stars Kate Lindsay, Michele Losier, Russell Braun and George Petean round out the cast in the roles of Valentin and Siebel. They should make for youthful incarnations of the roles.   

The cast should make for a pleasant night even if the production is a let down. 

This is part of the live in HD transmissions at the Met. DECCA will most release this production. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Met Opera Review: Wagner's "Gesamtkunstwerk" finds its incarnation in Met "Satyagraha"

By David Salazar (Opening Night November 3, 2011)
Richard Wagner praised opera as the ultimate art form, a "gesamtkunstwerk" in which all the art forms converge into the ultimate of art forms. For the last few years, Met General Manager Peter Gelb has indirectly pronounced this as his credo and modus operandi with regards to his new productions. Gelb wants theater directors to come in and make the operas fresh and (here is comes) "theatrical." It's a loaded term to be sure considering how theatrical opera is on its own merits and in the traditional sense, but Gelb's conception of theatrical is (my interpretation here) less parking and barking and more action. Thus far in his tenure, the Met has witnessed a rise of new productions, but most have been poorly received, including this years new productions of "Anna Bolena," "Don Giovanni," and "Siegfried." There seems to be little risk taking in hopes of maintaining the conservative audience of the Met and the results often come off as half-baked concepts. In fact, I did a recap of all the productions that have been introduced under Gelb's reign as Met manager and have come up with just a mere two or three that really live up to his billing. However, I do not think that ANY of the new productions that the Met has staged since the 2006-07 season (the start of Gelb's tenure) have come anywhere close to this realization of the "Gesamtkunstwerk" than Phillip Glass and Phelim McDermott's  "Satyagraha."

I'm not lover of minimalist music, which made me a bit apprehensive about attending this work, much less review a performance of it. After all, with no real point of reference or understanding, who was I to dictate how it should be performed, or sung, or staged. Add to that the fact that there are no subtitles for this performance and the entire work is sung in Sanskrit. The aim was for the experience to be meditative and for this reason there are no subtitle references. After experiencing the work, I realized that it was impossible for me not to lay down my thoughts on such a revelatory experience.  I am not sure I could sit and listen to a recording of Satyagraha on my own without the visual reference, nor do I think I ever want to. This performance was the true fusion of music and production that was so powerful and cathartic that I honestly do not know how this work was ever or could ever be done any other way.

Before I continue speaking of the production I would like to emphasize that symbols permeate the production and I do not presume to understand all of them or even be right in my interpretations. But that is really the magic of the production as a whole.  The opera retells the history behind Gandhi's Satyagraha (Truth Force as the program relates) movement. There is no real narrative, just historical references. Act 1 explains how the movement was conceived and takes place on Tolstoy's farm. Act 2 shows the growth of the movement through the press with Hindu writer Tagore as the Act's central historical figure and Act 3 shows Gandhi's difficulties of sustaining the movement. However, Act 3 also portrays Martin Luther King as the movement's successor. It was in Act 3, the scene with the least visual activity, that the power and message of the work really touched me. We see Martin Luther at the center of upstage, his back to the audience up on a high podium preaching. The set is closed off in an oval shape save for the opening through which we see King speak. Gandhi (played beautifully by Richard Croft) is downstage and has just lost all of his supporters and friends and is alone. He turns toward King and the stage opens up around the podium revealing a cloudy sky, giving off the sense that King is preaching to the infinity. At this moment Gandhi walks over to the podium and puts his hand over it, like King his back to the audience. The music changes its direction at this moment and begins a sequence of ascending repetitions. It is a magical moment and one that really brought across that feeling of human transcendence and unity that the opera hopes to send.  Moments later, after singing a gorgeous pleading ascending line time and time again, Gandhi turns around and comes face to face with King: the acknowledgement of that human transcendence, and absolutely cathartic moment.

But that was the highest point of a plethora of previous high points. A fire pit at the center of the stage around which the Satyagraha movement is baptized and announced to the world. The walls of the production open on stage right, left, and center to reveal the giants of the west (stage left), the east culture (right), and Krishna (center). As Act 2 commences, Gandhi enters in his iconic attire from center upstage and big cut outs of skyscrapers descend on the stage. Then we are treated to the famous paper giants that crawl around the stage: The nemesis western empire that Gandhi must compete with. The chorus that has been upstage dressed in western clothing then proceeds to attack Gandhi in one of the most painful scenes I have witnessed on any stage of late.  Later in Act 2, copies of The Indian Opinion (the newspaper that helped perpetuate Gandhi's movement) are spread out in several lines throughout the stage and then lifted from the floor in straight lines as they ascend out of sight. I am only scratching the surface here of all the incredible things to experience here as there are people on stilts, incredible light effects, video projects of a ship dominating the stage, and even video projections of protests to accent Martin Luther King's movement. And I neglected to mention the thread that is woven across the stage again and again in Act 3 that seems like a ethereal protective barrier for Gandhi's followers. I really cannot say enough.

All the while, we are treated to some gorgeous singing. As Gandhi, the star of the show was Richard Croft who I first heard last year in Wagner's Rheingold as Loge.  Gandhi never has to ascend to the tenor's heroic stratosphere, a great choice by Glass. Instead, the tessitura hangs in the middle register and enables for a lighter, more relaxed vocal part, emphasizing Gandhi's passive nature. Croft mastered every phrase, no matter how many times it repeated, with such delicacy and polish. He never sounded the least bit exhausted throughout the entire night, despite the clear concentration demands of minimalist music. As a musician, I can attest that performing minimalism demands perhaps a greater level of concentration than any other, leading to a great sense of fatigue by the end of the night. The rest of cast was equally remarkable, particularly in the difficult ensembles that litter the work.

Conductor Dante Anzolini was another great hero of this night as he not only held the entire cast and orchestra together with amazing compactness, but really made Phillip Glass' music vibrate, when it is so easy for it to degenerate and sound like repetitive harmonic exercises. He received the accorded thundering applause, as did the rest of the cast and directing team. However, after they all took their bows, Anzolini separated from the pack and went to stage right where he asked for another person to come on stage. The man who stepped out was none other than the composer himself, Phillip Glass. Everyone stood up and gave him the greatest ovation of the night. And rightfully so. Even though the Met is currently performing the works of the greatest opera masters: Mozart, Verdi, Wagner (and in a few weeks Puccini), it is Phillip Glass' opera that represents the season's high point to date.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Luisi Levine Ring

It was just announced that James Levine will be taking an extended recovery and will not be conducting the new production of Gotterdammerung in January. Fabio Luisi, the Mets new Principal Conductor will take over. However Levine is still scheduled to conduct the spring cycles.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Satyagraha Opens tomorrow

Phillip Glasses masterpiece opens tomorrow starring Richard Croft.

For more details click here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chi bel sogno di Gheorgiu

Today we have an embarassing video of Angela Gheorghiu performing Carmen's Habanera with Maria Callas. From the beginning of her career Gheorghiu has been compared to Callas but she has never taken the risks, or pushed herself vocally or theatrically the way Callas did. The rise of more versatile and varied singers have made her star fall. And now it seems that Gheorghiu who is still a great singing actress is attempting to bank on her early comparisons to Maria Callas comparisons to revitalize her stature as the leading Diva.  LITERALLY!

Met Opera Review: Man (and Woman) win battle versus Machine in Met "Siegfried"

By David Salazar (For 11.1.2011 performance)

Three operas into the new Ring Cycle, it seems that Met manager Peter Gelb has some serious issues to think about. Could this Ring feasibly be in the Met's long term plans and more importantly, is it even safe to keep it in the long term plans? Everyone knows the story of opening night 2010: The $15 million machine (made up of 24 planks that weigh 90,000 pounds) that is designed to project fantastical images and create various shapes failed to create the climactic rainbow effect. Then in April, on the premiere of Die Walkure's new production (which I attended and reviewed), soprano Deborah Voigt fell off the planks before she sang a note. A few nights later, one of the Valkyries got off her plank a little too early and stumbled off the stage. Fortunately no one was hurt.

What happened with Siegfried? Well nothing of note last Thursday for its premiere. But sure enough, the machine's nasty nature manifested itself at the very end of the opera at my performance. As Siegfried walks off stage, there is a fire effect that eventually reconfigures into the top of the mountain where Siegfried and Brunhilde's fateful encounter takes place. The planks configured into the fire, but then something went wrong and a massive crashing sound boomed through the theater. The planks went still and tons of talking backstage ensued to the annoyance of the audience. Jay Hunter Morris, playing Siegfried appeared from the right side of the stage preparing to walk across the planks but quickly went back in when he realized it might not be a good idea. For the entire scene interlude the planks remained fixed. And then an odd event happened: Deborah Voigt, playing the supposedly sleeping Brunhilde, WALKED on stage and lay down. Hunter Morris followed. The remainder of the scene played out downstage with the fire effect continuing throughout. They tried to turn off the effect, but then left it on. SURPRISINGLY, having the fire effect made the final scene more engaging. After all this is a scene about passion and Brunhilde's decision to let go of her divinity to give into the passion. More importantly, the actors' played with their new surroundings extremely well. Hunter Morris stayed close to the fire, emphasizing his passion, while Voigt stayed away from the flames, matching her confused state. At the end, when they decide to give in, the two moved toward the flames for their final kiss. It was possibly the most honest scene in the entire cycle thus far and the symbolism seemed more Wagnerian than anything else presented to us thus far. BUT IT WAS ONLY AN ACCIDENT! (Maybe they should figure out a way for Brunhilde to come out on stage that is narratively feasible and keep this setup for the scene) What about the other stuff? The scenes that went accordingly to plan?

Never got a chance to see this, but I think the mistake was actually better. 
Sadly, this production continues to disappoint. I want to preface this by stating that it is by no means a bad production. By most standards, this Siegfried production is pretty decent (can't say the same for Rheingold or Die Walkure). However there are a number of factors that have made it difficult to temper my expectations:

A. The price tag: At a whopping $16 million you expect top of the line technology. If it is constantly malfunctioning, then it clearly is not prepared, which is a bit upsetting considering the time  (2 years) and money to put it together.

B. The Hype: Peter Gelb and Director Robert LePage made huge deals about this state of the art Ring and how it would introduce the greatest technology we can imagine. If you don't believe me, watch their videos on the topic:


There are incredible images of the configurations of the planks, none of which I have seen. There is great talk about 3D and projections that interact with the people. I hate to say this, but the interactive nature of the set really only gets a tiny glimpse at a few moments. The 3D? Only feels like they scratch the surface with it as well as the environments are not 3d rendered projections. The 3d effects are some leaves falling, a few birds flying around. Nothing special really.

C. Because I saw Valencia's Ring and how the video technology could create stirring and incredibly vibrant images that made me feel like I was in another dimension with Wagner's music and characters. I don't like to make comparisons, but when you are the Met opera, the greatest in the world, the expectations are paramount. And  when you have the opportunity to work with such great technology, you expect risks to be taken. Lepage played it so safe, that it almost felt like I was watching Otto Schenk's production (which I admire greatly) on video screens. Again, not a bad thing, but certainly not the full extent of the technology's capabilities.

Here's a look at Valencia's opening to Act 3:

The imagery in this production is vastly superior to that of Walkure and Rheingold, where it seemed like LePage was still guessing at the machine's abilities. He has corrected many of his past failures, but in doing so, has also created new problems. Take Act 1 for example, set in Mime's cave. In Act 1 of Die Walkure, the stage was poorly used as there was a ton of empty unused space and the actors looked lost. Here, LePage, decided to go to the other extreme. The cave is so small it is almost claustrophobic and difficult to watch after a few moments. If the actors looked overwhelmed by the space in Walkure, they look crammed in this scene. More important  (and back to the safety issue), Hunter Morris had to enter through the back of the stage a few times and from the looks of it, the plank or passageway was perilous as he walked very cautiously up the ramp onto the set. Not a sight that inspires confidence. There is also a bear (looked like a teddy bear) that was so brief it made me wonder if it was even necessary. This is the set we see the interacting leaves and a lake that shows some reflections for a few brief minutes. There is an interesting sunset, but nothing else to marvel at really.

Dragon or Snake?
Act 2 gives us the vista of a gorgeously rendered forest. But it pretty much remains the same for the entirety of the act, opening up slightly to reveal a dragon before going back to it's original shape. I wonder why there was no use of the planks here to have Siegfried traverse through the forest and give us new spectacles and show us a new world. The flat image is nice, but hardly immersive. Now about that dragon. Or is it a snake? All I need to say is that when it opened it's mouth to sing, quite a few audience members laughed. Hardly the SCARY DANGEROUS beast that everyone (aside from Siegfried of course) seems so afraid of. I do think there was a moment of inspiration when the river turns red after the slaughter of the Snake/Dragon. And the little bird, while a cheap 3D effect, was still an appropriate visual for the scene.

Act 3 was where I started to see more of what I expected from this production for last 3 operas. The opening has 3D crows and Wotan does some magic (FINALLY!), but that aside, it seems like too little too late and it is the only real glimpse of truly effective use of the machine's interactive nature. After that is a decent looking scene with Erda before the gaffe occurred.

On one final note, Lepage should get credit for using the Act 1 prelude to give us his take on Siegfried's birth and upbringing. It could have been further developed, but his presentation of the events certainly contradicts another character's presentation and makes for some interesting dramatic dynamics.

I'd like to make a quick mention of the costumes: They are horrific. Particularly Erda's, who looks like Lady Gaga with a sparkly dress. Poor taste here. Wotan's is pretty mundane (same for Fafner, Mime, and Alberich). Siegfried's is about what you'd expect and Brunhilde's works as well, but there seemed to be little thought put into the costumes here. LePage seemed to go with the stereotypical Wagner look.

Erda's look: Goddess of the Earth or Lady Gaga?
Enough rambling about the production though. How was the singing? The title role is easily one of the most daunting tasks for any Wagnerian heldentenor. It is a test in stamina and endurance that few are brave enough to tackle (hence why of the 4 operas, Siegfried remains the rarest to be performed outside of a cycle). Most Wagner tenors sound exhausted from the start of this role, an incessant wobble dominating their voices. Not the case of Hunter Morris whose voice sounds youthful, fresh, and energetic. He tackled the forging songs with ease and flexibility. He sang through Wagner's thick orchestra with confidence and strength. He sounded like an impetuous young man. And he certainly plays Siegfried to perfection. Hunter Morris plays around with Mime, rustles in the "3D" leaves, and fools around with the Dragon/Snake during their encounter as a fearless child would. At the end of Act 2, he runs off stage to follow the bird, but then runs back on to retrieve the sword and horn he almost left behind. But Hunter Morris' performance wasn't all fun and games. Siegfried is after all a hero, but one who lacks an identity that he yearns for. This is where Hunter Morris' best moments came from. Wagner often talked about how he hoped for his operas to be sung with belcanto style singing, and these were perfect example of that (sans the coloratura of course). Hunter Morris does not have a huge voice, but it is nonetheless a beautiful one, and one that draws the audience in and makes him/her listen as he weaves lyrical phrases with incomparable ease and delicacy.

Deborah Voigt has drawn criticism for unstable high notes. I couldn't hear any during this performance. Her voice is round, robust, and gorgeous all the same. There was also a great deal of polish in her timbre. This may not have been the daunting task of Die Walkure or the upcoming Gotterdammerung, but it is clear that Voigt treated it with the same degree of professionalism and importance. Her chemistry with Hunter Morris was incomparable. I made note of their excellent improvisation and acting during the scenes climax despite the technical malfunctions, but their singing together was inspiring in its unity.

Bryn Terfel returned as Wotan or the "Wanderer" in this opera. He does not have quite the emotional range as he did in Die Walkure, but he made the best of it otherwise. His Wanderer was menacing during the Act 1 confrontation with Mime. There was some snarl and charm in the Act 2 confrontation with his nemesis Alberich and some compassion in his Act 3 scene with Siegfried as he tempts the youth to confront him. His singing was potent and yet filled with subtly and nuance.

Gerhard Siegel was terrific as Mime, the Nibelung who has fathered Siegfried. Mime is at the brunt of all of Wagner's cruel jokes and Siegel played the comic relief to perfection, making it impossible not to laugh at his pointlessly cunning attempts. Siegel's voice had great agility and even some nice heft.

Eric Owens (as Alberich) IS Alberich. He has the dark edge to the voice. He has the strength and power throughout the range that he put on display at various points, making us feel the frustrated power of Alberich attempting to reassert itself. His role has little to do in the work, but it is clear for Owens that "there are no little roles (pardon the cliche)."

Hans Peter Konig was tremendous as Fafner, exerting his massive ringing voice at will. Mojca Erdmann brought beauty and warmth to the bird. I can't wait to hear her Zerlina in Don Giovanni next week. Patricia Bardon was also a successful Erda possessing an potent, earthy tone. It's a shame her costume did her no favors.

Conductor Derrick Inouye had an interesting night. He was so good for two acts that it was really a shame to see the stability and unity of the orchestra start to unravel in Act 3. There were late, uncoordinated entrances throughout the Act. The string accompaniment and bass melody of the Act 3 prelude were not together at the start. The orchestra was not following Voigt or Morris in the final moments of their Act 3 duet, seeming in a rush to end the performance. It may have been a question of stamina (this is Inouye's only performance of Siegfried in the run), but it was alarming to see the drop off after two extremely magical acts in which Wagner's vivid musical storytelling was so crisp and clear.

As I stated in my Walkure review, the singers really made this night magical. But there is nonetheless a feeling of disappointment. 3 operas in and I have yet to feel the magic of Wagner's world in LePage's production. With the machine's tentative nature, I am even more concerned with Gotterdammerung and its many transitions. Will the machine be able to make it through the first act and its various scene changes unscathed? Or will LePage play it safe yet again and make the final installment (which should be the most exciting), the safest and dullest yet? I get the feeling that after this year's cycle and the rumored cycles next year, Peter Gelb will be saying goodbye to this Ring. It is rather unfortunate, considering the potential that LePage showed in his impressive Damnation of Faust many seasons ago. For now, we must make the best out of the current ring and let the singers do the work. 3 operas in, they've been creating the success on their own.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Adriana Lecouvreur on DVD!

It has just been announced that Adriana Lecouvreur starring Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu will be released on DVD from the Royal Opera House. The production by David McVicar also stars Olga Borodina and Alessandro Corbelli. The DVD is slated to be released in January on DECCA.

The DECCA website now reports that the DVD will released on April 2nd

Here is a clip from the performance