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Il Trovatore at the Met

Trovatore-met-04302011  * Notes * 
The last performance of Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera was Saturday's matinee. Since I have seen seemed David McVicar's production several times in San Francisco, it seemed best to simply listen at a score desk today.

Conductor Marco Armiliato had the orchestra sounding spirited. The racing tempi were infused with energy. The dynamics were not always dramatic, at times pianissimo was not terribly distinct from forte. Stefan Kocán was a dry Ferrando, but with good volume. I had trouble hearing Maria Zichak's musical line as Inez when she sang with Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora) and the orchestra in Part I. The latter interpreted the emotional content of the text with clarity, and could always be heard. Dmitri Hvorostovsky (di Luna) has a lovely timbre but has a tendency to gasp when breathing. While Marcelo Álvarez was plaintive as Manrico, he almost seemed to choke on a note in "Ah, sì ben mio." Perhaps this was intentional, it did give this reviewer a physical sensation of being strangled. Dolora Zajick (pictured above, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) was most impressive as Azucena. The madness of the character came through, with passion and without ugliness.

* Tattling * 
Though most of the audience was respectful and silent, someone left his or her mobile phone on and it rang during a rest with a fermata in Part 2. One would think being broadcast live in high definition would be incentive enough to turn off electronic devices.

Orfeo ed Euridice at the Met

  Orfeo-met-04292011 * Notes * 
The latest revival of the Metropolitan Opera's Orfeo ed Euridice (pictured left, © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) opened last night. The production, directed by Mark Morris, is busy. Done without an intermission, every second seemed full of movement. Allen Moyer's set opened, closed, shifted, and spun. Unfortunately it was rather loud, especially noticeable because the music is not. The staircase that descended and ascended could have illuminated the drama in some fashion, but simply created too much noise to be revealing. The lighting was simple and unobtrusive. The dancing had some elegant lines, and was rather humorous at times. Isaac Mizrahi's dress for Euridice was pleasant enough, as was the suit for Orfeo, and the subdued historical costumes of the chorus. Amor and most of the dancers had mundane street clothes on, they all seemed to be wearing separates. I did not understand the use of glittery cloth.

In his Met debut, Antony Walker drove the orchestra at a good clip. There were times when the musicians sound just on the edge of losing control and this was engaging. The chorus was ethereal and pretty. As Euridice, Kate Royal's Met debut revealed a voice with smooth edges, not terribly voluminous, but perfectly audible. Lisette Oropesa (Amor) seemed a bit compressed, especially in her entrance, as she was suspended from the ceiling. She did have moments of pure loveliness. David Daniels warbled as Orfeo, especially at first, but had pleasing warmth throughout. "Che farò" was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
Standing room on the orchestra level was full of whispering, but most of it died down once much of the dancing was underway. After the performance, some female patrons were seen switch out their shoes in the orchestra lobby. Evidently someone did not find this dignified, commenting that it was a "show after the show."

Séance on a Wet Afternoon at City Opera

Seance-city-opera * Notes * 
The East Coast premiere of Séance on a Wet Afternoon from Stephen Schwartz was given at New York City Opera earlier this month. The opera itself had some impressive intensity, particularly in the last two séances. The orchestration, however, was dense, and the male voices were particularly difficult to make out at times. The libretto had kitschy moments, though this seems very hard to avoid. One did appreciate the bits of humor that came through in early scenes, even in this dark tale. Heidi Ettinger's attractive set was light artfully by David Lander. Alejo Vietti's 1960s costumes were likewise pleasing. The direction and the musical staging, from Scott Schwartz and Matt Williams, respectively, both showed thoughtfulness. The chorus was put to good use, especially in the ransom scene, where the singers are first reporters, then passengers on a trolley. End did strike me as bizarre, and I am not sure what exactly occurred in the plot.

Under Steven Osgood, the orchestra had a lovely transparency during the first overture. The seating arrangement was unusual, with 1st and 2nd violins and basses up against the front wall of the pit. The celli and violas were in the middle on platforms, and there was a large gap between these instruments and the violins.

The singing and acting was strong. The scene with the Irish tenor (Michael Marcotte) was lovely, though the end was rather loud, Todd Wilander (Charles Clayton) was slightly hard to hear until he sang in his higher range. As Rita Clayton, Melody Moore's portrayal of motherly love was heartbreaking. Kim Josephson played anguished Bill Foster believably. One found compassion for him. Lauren Flanigan (Myra Foster) was terrifying. She could sound sweet and delicate, but could be harsh when necessary. There were times when I felt she might be flat, but of course I do not know this music, and it did not matter, in any case, Flanigan was effective. Her last séance was searing.

* Tattling * 
The house was not full for yesterday's performance, perhaps many potential attendees were at the Met's sold-out Walküre instead. There was some whispering during the overtures and even the arias, but people were responsive to hushings.

Cal Performances' 2011-2012 Season

September 16-18 2011: Mark Morris Dance Group performs Dido and Aeneas
September 21 2011: Herbie Hancock, piano
September 25 2011: Fall Free for All: Open House at Cal Performances
October 2 2011: Cambodia's Khmer Arts Ensemble
October 9 2011: Kronos Quartet
October 11 2011: Yefim Bronfman, piano
October 14-16 2011: Mariinsky Orchestra
October 21 2011:The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer starring John Malkovich
October 22 2011: An Evening with David Rakoff
October 23 2011: The Cashore Marionettes
October 26-29 2011: Toni Morrison, Rokia Traoré & Peter Sellars' the Desdemona project
October 28 2011: San Francisco Opera Orchestra
October 29 2011: Keith Jarrett, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; & Jack DeJohnette, drums
October 30 2011: Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor with Apollo's Fire
November 2 2011: Lang Lang, piano
November 6 2011: Takács Quartet
November 13 2011: Davitt Moroney, harpsichord
November 13 2011: Abraham, Inc.
November 17-20 2011: Gate Theatre of Dublin
November 18 2011: Trey McIntyre Project
November 19 2011: Compañia Flamenca José Porcel
November 19 2011: An Evening of Images & Conversation with Roz Chast
November 25-27 2011: Tomáš Kubínek
December 2-3 2011: Tanztheater Wuppertal
December 4 2011: Takács Quartet
December 10 2011: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Messiah
January 14 2012: Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
January 20-22 2012: Peking Acrobats
January 27 2012: Europa Galante
January 28 2012: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
January 29 2012: Alfredo Rodríguez, piano
February 3-4 2012: The Polychoral Splendors of Renaissance Florence
February 5 2012: Kronos Quartet & Alim Qasimov Ensemble
February 12 2012: David Holt
February 12 2012: Kirill Gerstein, piano
February 17 2012: The Assad Brothers
February 18 2012: Ana Moura
February 19 2012: Takács Quartet
February 24-25 2012: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
February 29 2012: András Schiff, piano
March 3 2012: Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
March 4 2012: Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone
March 7 2012: An Evening with Garrison Keillor
March 8 2012: Danú
March 10 2012: Ton Koopman & the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
March 13-18 2012: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
March 24 2012: Zakir Hussain & Masters of Percussion
March 24 2012: David Finckel, cello & Wu Han, piano
March 25 2012: Richard Goode, piano
March 30-31 2012: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
April 1 2012: April 13 2012: Quatuor Mosaïques
April 19 2012: Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80
April 22 2012: Musicians from Marlboro
May 4 2012: Dianne Reeves
May 6 2012: Word for Word
May 6 2012: Sweet Honey in the Rock
May 8 2012: Peter Serkin, piano
June 3 2012: San Francisco Opera Orchestra
June 11-14 2012: Ojai North!

Matías Tarnopolsky announced Cal Performances's 2011-2012 season at a press conference today. We were seated on the stage and at one point Peter Sellars joined the conference via Skype from Vienna, where his new work is currently in rehearsal.

Mark Morris opens the next season, and he will be conducting Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. The soloists include Stephanie Blythe and Philip Cutlip. Eric Owens, Philippe Jaroussky, and Susan Graham all have recitals. More New Music and Early Music programming will be announced in September.

Official Site | Brochure

Faust at San Diego Opera

Stephen Costello as Faust and Ailyn Pérez as Marguerite in San Diego Opera’s production of Faust, April/May, 2011. Photo © Cory Weaver. * Notes * 
The opening performance of a Faust revival at San Diego Opera occurred last night. Seen last season in San Francisco, the sets and costumes were designed by Robert Perdziola, with lighting from Michael Whitfield. Apparently the production, owned by Lyric Opera of Chicago, was actually designed for Tancredi. In San Diego, it was redesigned for Faust 10 years ago and the staging this time around was done by David Gately. It was striking how distinct this performance was from the San Francisco performances last June, despite having the same sets, costumes, and even one of the same singers. There was much more ballet in San Diego's version. The choreography for the chorus was simpler and had the singers remain onstage for more of Act I, Scene 2. The chorus did well, and were, for the most part, together. Karen Keltner had the orchestra sounding pretty and legato. The brass had a few evident vulnerabilities.

Scott Sikon was perfectly fine as Wagner, and Jane Bunnell was amusing as Marthe. Sarah Castle looked perfectly boyish as Siébel. Her voice was clean and bright, both her "Faites-lui mes aveux" and her scene with Marguerite at the end of Act III, Scene 1 were very sweet. Baritone Brian Mulligan was strong as Valentin, his "O Sainte Medaille" garnered the first ovation of the evening. Greer Grimsley looked and sounded like a convincing Méphistophélès. His voice has a certain husk-like quality to it that lacks prettiness and works for the Devil. Ailyn Pérez made for a fitting contrast, a lovely Marguerite indeed, especially for "Il était un roi de Thulé." Pérez possesses a wonderful effortlessness when she sings. Stephen Costello may have a slightly harder time as Faust, one or two high notes betrayed strain, but not constriction. Costello did sound plaintive, his voice is pleasant and has enough squillo to cut through the orchestration. Pérez and Costello made an attractive pair.

* Tattling * 
The talking and whispering during overtures was unrelenting, at least on the right side of Row S on the orchestra level. No mobile phones were heard, but there were those who used them to check the time between scenes.

Wozzeck at the Met

Met-wozzeck The Unbiased Opinionator's account of the last performance of Wozzeck this season at the Metropolitan Opera.

* Notes * 
The musical and emotional journey that is Wozzeck is not an easy one. The score bears much study before an uninitiated listener can appreciate the dramatic richness and supreme formal architecture of Berg's creation. Nonetheless, James Levine's organic mastery of the score, combined with a very strong cast, resulted in a memorable afternoon.

The opera, written in three acts, was presented without intermission. Brief pauses were built in for audiences members to stretch, chat, or check their e-mail. The decision to present the work without intermission was a wise one. To allow the audience to trickle out, have a glass of champagne or cup of coffee, and then attempt to refocus after an ordinary intermission would have dispersed the dramatic energy of the performance.

The epicenter of this performance was James Levine, who was greeted with a storm of applause as he slowly made his way to the podium. One never had the sense of a conductor being a mere rhythmic traffic cop. Levine presented the work as one uninterrupted field of energy. His body language alone seemed to inspire the orchestra and cast with its great economy of movement.

This unrelentingly dark tale, rendered into play by Georg Buechner, was derived from a true story. Woyzeck, a proletarian ex-soldier, is helplessly caught, along with his mistress Marie and their son, in a spider's web of degradation, poverty, and subjugation to crushing forces beyond his control. The real-life Woyzeck was convicted and executed for the murder of his mistress in 1821.

Robert Israel's set was a claustrophobic, darkly-lit alien landscape of matte grey columns, trusses, and foreshortened geometric surfaces. This provided a framework for the characters, who were dressed in period clothing representative of some indeterminate, pre-World War I Central Europe. The dramatic figures were lit in such a way that their shadows were projected at surreal angles onto the set as they interacted.

Alan Held played Wozzeck, not as a beaten-down underling, but as a human being seething with anger and frustration. Even his initial monotonic "Ja Wohl, Herr Hauptmann" had a certain menace which foreshadowed his later descent into animal rage and homicide. Singing with great intensity and impressive vocal quality, he was not afraid to push his vocal delivery to the breaking point. The result, particularly during his panic-ridden hallucinations in Act I, was overwhelming in its impact.

Waltraud Meier had the dramatic capacity to present Marie in all her guises: the despairing mother; lustful, wanton sexual object of the Drum-Major (strongly sung by Stuart Skelton); and the caged creature who causes her own murder by rebuffing Wozzeck with the line "better a knife in the belly than your hands on me." Her dramatic portrayal was chillingly uncompromising.

The doctor (Walter Fink), and the Captain (Gerhard Siegel) played their roles with malignant, detached sadism. Both succeeded in projecting their wordy lines cleanly and clearly into the hall.

The backdrop to the murder of Marie by Wozzeck in the final Act was a huge, bloodshot moon, with pockmarked striations reminiscent of a human retina. The abstract pond in which Wozzeck drowns was a one-dimensional, rust colored band across the back of the stage. The resulting visual effect underlined the deep nihilism of the drama. After the thunderous ovation died down at the conclusion of the afternoon, one emerged into a the privileged, well-fed City, haunted with the knowledge that there are still Wozzecks everywhere in this world.

* Tattling * 
UO had the great pleasure of greeting Marilyn Horne backstage after the performance. Horne was acclaimed for her performances of Marie in 1960, for the dedication of the new opera house in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and in her US Debut in San Francisco in 1964.

Merola's 54th Season Participants

Marina Boudart Harris, Whittier, California
Suzanne Rigden, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
Xi Wang, Zhengzhou, China
Elizabeth Zharoff, Wenatchee, Washington

Laura Krumm, Iowa City, Iowa
Deborah Nansteel, Havelock, North Carolina
Renée Rapier, Marion, Iowa

Daniel Curran, Blackfoot, Idaho
Heath Huberg, Milford, Iowa
Cooper Nolan, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Scott Quinn, Marshall, Texas

Mark Diamond, Augusta, Georgia
Joo Won Kang, Seoul, South Korea
Suchan Kim, Busan, South Korea
John Maynard, Orinda, California
Johnathan Michie, Rochester, New York

Peixin Chen, Hu Lun Bei Er, Inner Mongolia, China
Philippe Sly, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Adam Lau, San Francisco, California

Apprentice Coaches
Timothy Cheung, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Robert Mollicone, East Greenwich, Rhode Island
Ana María Otamendi, Caracas, Venezuela
Clinton Smith, Lake Jackson, Texas

Apprentice Stage Director
Ragnar Conde, Mexico City, Mexico

Official Site | Biographies

The Tetzlaff Quartet at SF Performances

Tetzlaff-Quartet-by-Alexandra-Vosding * Notes * 
The Tetzlaff Quartet (pictured left by Alexandra Vosding) is just finishing a tour of the United States. The ensemble's penultimate stop at Herbst Theatre was presented by San Francisco Performances. The evening began with Haydn's String Quartet in G minor, Op. 20, No. 3, which was played with fire and nuanced dynamics. Violinist Christian Tetzlaff came off as very much a soloist. The second piece, Mendelssohn's String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13 was likewise fine, the third movement was particularly droll. After the intermission we heard Schoenberg's String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7, which sounded the most cohesive of the three. Violist Hanna Weinmeister had some lovely moments, as did cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and violinist Elisabeth Kufferath.

* Tattling * 
Someone behind me in Row P of the orchestra level was occasionally humming with the Mendelssohn, and it was disconcerting as she was so close to me it almost felt like the sound was coming through my body. Someone on the right side of the orchestra level intermittently crumpled cellophane throughout the Schoenberg, but left before the encore. Christian Tetzlaff called out the title of the encore, and someone in the audience expressed confusion, so violinist responded rather adorably by putting his hands on his hips and yelling "Dvořák!"

Alan Held Interview

AH-Steiner-color Dr Miracle This weekend bass-baritone Alan Held (pictured left, leftmost photo by Christian Steiner) finishes a run of Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera. He goes to Baden-Baden next for Salome, Munich in July for Rusalka, Washington DC in September for Tosca, and Bilbao in October and November for Tristan und Isolde. Next season he returns to San Francisco for the Symphony's semi-staged Bluebeard's Castle. The Last Chinese Unicorn and the Unbiased Opinionator caught up with Held last Monday.

LCU: There are those who have difficulty sitting through pieces by Berg, Schoenberg, or Stravinsky. What advice would you give to those unaccustomed to atonal music to prepare for Wozzeck?
AH: I have a friend who's flying in from LA this weekend to see the show and intimidated by it as well. She just wanted to enjoy it and I told her to be familiar with the story. To me a piece like Wozzeck is almost musical theater. There are wonderful sections of the piece that are very melodic, but there is all the atonal music and the Sprechstimme. The first step is to get familiar with the play, it's a gripping story. Then, listen to fragments of it. When you're preparing to hear a piece like this, don't try to listen to it all at one time. People are shocked at how much enjoy this thing, because it is so musical. The orchestra is so strong. But you have to take it in small portions at first, and then when you see it all together it will blow you away. If the artist is doing his or her job, to express the text and the story, to me Wozzeck is more natural and easier to absorb than just about any other operas out there. There's no repetition of the same phrases over and over. The bones of this stuff – the music and the sound palette is put out there to put the emphasis on the drama even more than you would in many other types of opera, or other theater pieces.

UO: That will be quite helpful to those less inclined toward the Second Viennese School.
AH: I'm very committed to this piece and to contemporary music. I do a lot of it. My bread and butter is probably Wagner and Strauss. I've been in the business 25 years this year, and I've seen the tastes and what audiences go for really change in these 25 years. When I was starting out you'd see Verdi, Wagner, Mozart and Puccini; that was the meat and potatoes. Things have really changed. You're getting more contemporary music, Czech music, a lot more of Bartok, and the Russian repertoire. And there's a change in the other direction, too. You're getting a lot more Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, because of the artists who come around in certain time periods. Maybe we're a little bit low on the Verdi end right now. The economy affects the repertory too. You're not getting as much Wagner in some houses as you once were, because it's very expensive to do Wagner. But I think audiences become more enlightened, more intelligent about different styles of music and more accepting of it. It used to be, when Wozzeck was done, you'd have a very small audience. Same thing for Lulu. Now the audiences are becoming much fuller and more active. The response we received after opening night of Wozzeck was as huge as anything I've ever heard at the Metropolitan Opera House. So, I think audiences, singers, and companies are all becoming more appreciative and open to a wider range of repertoire.

UO: That's great to hear, Alan. I'm looking forward very much to hearing the broadcast and being in the house this Saturday to hear you.
AH: I'm glad you're going to be in the house because this is a production that you must see as well as listen to. I think it comes off one way on the radio, or CD, but this is a production that needs to be seen. You have merits of the theater and the music together, especially in a piece like Wozzeck.

UO: Of course you have the enormous advantage of having James Levine conducting.
AH: We're thrilled to have him step on the podium once again when he came back after being away for so long.

UO: I've done a little bit of chorus work with Jimmy, and I find him enormously inspiring. Would you tell us a little bit about what the working process is like with him as a soloist? I imagine at the point you start working with him it's so integrated that you're working less on details and more on the larger picture.
AH: I've worked with Maestro Levine quite a bit on many different things over the years including the Ring, Elektra, Hoffmann, and Wozzeck. The process that we usually use at the Met is that, unless it's a brand new production, we rehearse the staging first – we do that for a couple of weeks. Then he'll come in when we start to do the stage rehearsals, sometimes before, when we're still in the rehearsal room, and he really puts a lot of polish on it. Sometimes it takes a lot more polish than other things. But we usually do the rehearsal on stage and then we'll get together in List Hall or somewhere else at the Met, really working on details and working on characters. Maestro Levine is such a master at melding the character into the voice and he loves pure sound and expression of the text. He's very good with Wozzeck at not just being such a great technician and a great musician, but he does a great amount with the drama as well. He's so familiar with it; he loves the score and he does so much to help bring more out of you. It's been said so many times what a great accompanist he is and that's absolutely true. He's right there with you all the time and you really feel when you're working with him that you're working together. There's none of this: just someone beating a stick. I've had the privilege of watching him work not only with the Met orchestra but also with the Youth Orchestra at Tanglewood. He's a master technician as far as teaching the orchestra, and he's teaching us all the time.

UO: When you first debuted the role in San Francisco back in 1999, how did you go about learning it? Did you simply pound it into yourself?
AH: I began as a pianist and I also listened in theory class, so I understood the 12 tone style. But again, I approached it from the drama as much as I did it from the music at the beginning, because the two have to be married together. Yes, I did pound out the notes, but I looked at the rhythm and how the language flowed and Berg set it masterfully. It all makes sense, what he did. I think this piece is almost as tough rhythmically as it is note-wise. The rhythm is just as important. And then incorporating it into how I work as an artist, and as an actor, all together. I didn't do it separately: note, note, note, note. That would be the wrong way to approach Wozzeck.

UO: You've sung, as you say, for 25 years on an international level and you’re working in constantly changing acoustic environments. I'm sure you're familiar with most of the big houses but if you're confronted with a very dry, unforgiving acoustic, what do you do?
AH: There's really not a lot you can do. If you go messing around and trying to change the way you're singing to fit the acoustic of a certain opera house, you're going to end up in trouble. You can't change the acoustic. If you try to change your voice you're going to end up hurting yourself. So you have to just accept it. Fortunately, we get several rehearsals in the halls so you have the time to adjust your mind more than anything. A tough house is Amsterdam and it's not simply because of the acoustic, but the stage is very, very wide and you're not used to the audience being almost at your side all the time. But again, you can't really go changing your singing. You may have to sing more straight out, and less to the sides in certain houses, but your technical apparatus is the same.

LCU: What is your favorite city, and what do you love about it?
AH: Boy, you know when I do operas, I think, "Oh, this is my favorite scene! Oh, no, I love this one!" Every time I think that I have a favorite, it's the thing that I'm singing. I oftentimes say the same things about cities and I like a lot of different ones. I love San Francisco. The weather there is fabulous; it's a great walking city. I love Chicago, maybe because I'm originally from Illinois although I didn't spend much time there as a kid. I love New York. In Europe, I like Munich a great deal and Vienna. I just spent two months in Barcelona and that was great because I avoided all the weather on the East Coast! So, yes, there are a lot of places I love to be. There are some places that I don't want to go back to (laughter). I'm not going to say what they are. I may need a job there someday!

LCU: Wasn't it in Barcelona that you took the picture of those pig heads for Valentine's Day?
Oh yes! Nothing says Valentine's Day like a pig head! I tend to walk around, I'm a pretty observant guy when I'm doing so. So in Barcelona there was this meat case and it had all these pig heads and stuff, and they had Valentine hearts all over the place, and I was like "Oh my gosh!" (Laughter)

LCU: I remember seeing that picture, wondering if it was a joke or real.
AH: It was absolutely real.
UO: It's either a joke or another piece of Regietheater.

LCU: What's the story behind your Facebook profile picture (above right)?
AH: Thats Dr. Miracle from Tales of Hoffman in 1993 at the Met, the old Otto Schenk production. I love that picture! I figure that's how I look after four kids. (Laughter) That old production at the Met was amazing. It's one of my favorites. Dr. Miracle pops out of the fireplace, and he pops through the floor. I get so many people commenting on that picture all the time! And someone said that that's the best picture on Facebook so I said "OK, I'll keep it!"

Capriccio at the Met

Capriccio-renee-fleming An account of Capriccio this season at the Metropolitan Opera from the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
"Indian Summer" is used by music historians to describe the re-flowering of Richard Strauss' creative powers toward the end of his life, after the catastrophe of World War II. This re-flowering, which occurred after a period of jaded stagnation, was Strauss' response to the destruction of German culture during the Nazi period. One of the loveliest of the works from this period is the opera Capriccio, one that he and his librettist, Clemens Krauss, subtitled "A Conversation Piece for Music." Strauss died seven years after the premiere of Capriccio in Munich in 1942.

"Conversation Piece for Music" is certainly apt. Much of the first part of the work, performed without intermission, is given to extended passages of complex, sung "conversation," consisting of witty debate on the subject: which is more important, text or music? Only the poet Olivier's sonnet, "Kein Andres, das mir so im Herzen loht" (created in the conceit of the opera by the composer Flamand) is set by Strauss to linear, memorable music. Both poet and composer vie for the love of the Countess Madeleine, sung with luminous beauty and acted with simple grace by Strauss-veteran Renée Fleming, who is, as was Kiri Te Kanawa in her day, a wonder in this repertory.

Olivier's and Flamand's courting of the Countess is set by Strauss as a metaphor for the tug of war between music and text. In the concluding scene, the Countess cannot decide between these two elements, but concludes that only a perfect wedding of music and text can satisfy, and she sings her glorious final scene, based on the musical material of the Sonnet, as a hymn to the mystery and artistic power of this synthesis.

During the opening prelude, an intimate string sextet (played beautifully by the Met first desk string players) is heard. The Met curtain was illuminated in a soft golden light, with house lights dimmed, but still lit at a low level, and the chandeliers were not completely raised to the ceiling, but remained at "half-mast," at half light, creating a atmosphere of burnished gold which set the stage for the sensitive rendition of the Opera to follow.

There were no weak links in the cast. Joseph Kaiser's Flamand had plenty of carrying power, with a fine top, and the tall tenor cut a fine figure. The poet Olivier was sung by Russell Braun. Peter Rose's portrayal of the pompous theater director, La Roche, was aptly blustery in the finest buffo style. The part of the actress Clairon was sung by English mezzo Sarah Connolly. This reviewer has long admired the work of this fine singer, and she did not disappoint, with her dramatic flair, rich vocal color and tall and striking visual presence.

The many secondary roles, including the comic roles of the Italian Singers (admirably sung with perfect timing by tenor Barry Banks and soprano Olga Makarina), and a luxury cast of Servants, including Met veteran Christopher Schaldenbrand, added to the extremely high quality of the evening. The character roles of the Major-Domo (Michael Devlin) and the prompter (Bernard Fitch) were wonderful facets in the finely jeweled clockwork that is Capriccio.

Andrew Davis led the Met orchestra in a warm and balanced account of the score, with the only possible criticism being a too fast tempo for the opening prelude.

* Tattling * 
The soaring, evanescent music of the concluding scene seemed to transfigure the audience, and one exited the theater into a beautiful Spring night, with the Lincoln Center fountain dancing in the soft air. This reviewer walked home amid blossoming ornamental pear trees and felt as if he had drunk the finest champagne in the world.

Daveda Karanas' Schwabacher Debut Recital

MathildeWesendonck-1850 * Notes * 
Mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas gave her Schwabacher Debut Recital, accompanied by pianist Allen Periello, yesterday evening. The program was designed around Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, which ended the performance. To begin we heard songs from Liszt, all on themes related to the source texts of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Likewise, Peter Heise's Gurdruns Sorg is a Danish translation from The Poetic Edda. Karanas has a high, powerful voice with fine technique and lucid diction. There is a pleasantly metallic quality to her singing that never comes off as harsh. She is, however, not a natural actor, and there seemed to be a disconnect between the meaning of the words and how they came through her body. In contrast, Periello was expressive, but kept a subtle balance between piano and singer. "Wanderers Nachtlied" was especially stately, and Wagner's "Träume" was cloud-like and floating. Karanas seemed to light up from inside for the encore, "Lorelei" from Gershwin's Pardon my English.

* Tattling * 
I was recognized as the Opera Tattler for the second time in as many days.