With Silvestrelli: The Opera Tattler
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Andrea Silvestrelli replaced Peter Rose as Osmin in SF Opera's Die Entführung aus dem Serail last night. Silvestrelli has a lovely warm voice with a good heft, and a certain throaty quality. He was a bit quiet and creaky for that first low D in "O, wie will ich triumphieren," but he was appealing and very funny. His accent in English for the spoken parts was charming, though not all of the words were perfectly clear. It was especially entertaining when he said "Grazie mille" instead of "Danke schön" when handing a lute back to someone in the prompter's box during his last aria.
All evening long there were many problems with synchronization between the singers and the orchestra. The chorus sounded better in Act I, but still seemed detached in Act III. Andrew Bidlack sounded just a bit weak for the sustained note in "Frisch zum Kampfe," but was otherwise great. Anna Christy sang without showing much strain at all. Mary Dunleavy had her best night so far with "Ach ich liebte." Matthew Polenzani's voice sounded both fluid and vulnerable, which was quite winning.
This time around I was able to concentrate more on the spoken dialogue in English, instead of translating it in my mind into the German. It was interesting to note that the obsolete informal second person singular pronoun was used inappropriately. Pedrillo uses the formal "you" when he is chatting it up with Osmin and Belmonte, but uses "thee" with the Pasha. One supposes it goes along with the common perception that this archaic form is actually more formal. It was a bit of a muddle, though it did not bother me the first three times I heard it this way. Once should note that the nominative was always "you" for some reason, and not "thou," which was definitely weird.
* Tattling *
It was Chevron night at the opera, and many employees of that company, who probably do not normally attend such events, were there. The couple in front of me in T 101 and 102 of the orchestra seemed rather enthused, but they did talk a great deal during the music. The female half of the couple turned on her Blackberry during the pause between the second and third acts. She received a text message that read something like "The opera is in the opera house LOL" from someone who had previously asked if the opera was being performed in Davies.
Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) opened at San Francisco Opera yesterday evening. The production, designed by David Zinn, features an adorable 18th century theatre and lavish costumes. Director Chas Rader-Shieber did not use the set to its best advantage. There were some amusing moments, as when the Pasha's ship zipped by in the background, or when a door appeared in the middle of the stage. Unfortunately, for the most part, the opera was just not as funny as it could have been. The choreography was artificial and poorly motivated. The members of the chorus looked and sounded especially uncomfortable as they very carefully synchronized their arm movements.
Under Cornelius Meister, the orchestra was clear, albeit papery and dry. The triangle seemed to have a bit of trouble at the end of the overture and was not with the cymbals or the bass drum. As for the principal singers, everyone sounded perfectly nice, for the most part. The cast fluidly switched from their English dialogue to the German singing, though perhaps it would have made more sense to sing in English as well.
Peter Rose was funny as Osmin, his voice is pleasant, but his low notes are not strong. He was not with the orchestra for parts of "Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden" or in the trio at the end of Act I, but was better for the rest of the opera. Andrew Bidlack sounded lovely as Pedrillo, he was weak at times during Act II, but was wonderful during the seranade "In Mohrenland gefangen war ein Mädel." Anna Christy (Blonde) was as cute as ever, she twittered her way through, occasionally with a lot of vibrato, but much warmth. Mary Dunleavy fared less well, the top of her voice is sometimes strained and shrill, particularly in her first aria. Her voice can be angelic and she held up during "Welcher Wechsel herrscht...Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose." As our hero Belmonte, Matthew Polenzani looked stiff but sang his arias with beauty.
* Tattling *
The audience talked during the English dialogue, but were quiet for the music. A person next to us in standing room exclaimed something when he realized the dialogue was to be in English, he seemed rather unhappy.
October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo
Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.
* Notes *
Calixto Bieito's production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Komische Oper was absolutely the worst opera experience I have ever had. Perhaps I am just hopelessly prudish, but watching 135 minutes of violence, which for the most part was directed against females, was not what I had in mind. Things started off humorously enough, the set revolved and consisted of a few glass boxes covered with advertising targeted at women. There were two boxes downstage left and right that looked just like they had come from Amsterdam's red light district, and scrolling signs with various messages about services offered. Above these particular boxes were four television screens showing a video of a woman at her toilette, and this turned out to be what I watched the most, as it was the least offensive.
The nature of Bassa Selim was entirely changed for this production. Instead of turning out to be an enlightened leader, he is merely a monster who has been living a life beyond consequence. We were treated to rape and torture scenes. Constanze is put in a cage and also lead by leash. Before "Marten Alle Arten," Osmin cuts one of the women and kills her in front of Constanze. It would be one thing if these disturbing images seemed like they were being critical, but their graphic sadism was simply gratuitous. Sure, at the end, the "good" guys kill the "bad" guys, but they also kill all the women in the harem except Blonde and Constanze. It was a simplification message, eye for an eye rather than turn the other cheek.
After watching about half of the opera, I just became utterly bored. The singing wasn't that great, the half-naked girls were cute but not exciting, people yelled a lot and were mean to one another, and the second-rate trapeze artist only performed during the overture. After I had read all the messages on the scrolling signs (with choice statements like "I just turned 18!"), I was reduced to watching Rebecca Ringst's video-film of Jeanette Höldtke putting on her makeup, painting her toe-nails, and trying to open a package of pantyhose.
Jens Larsen (Osmin) began singing stark naked in the shower in Act I, he proceeded to come out of the shower and dry off, but still managed to jump up and down on the bed without putting any clothes on. Larsen's voice was strongest of the cast, full and resonant, but he was off from the orchestra when he sang "Erst geköpft, dann gehangen." Christoph Späth was weak as Pedrillo, this was particularly evident when Larsen and Späth sang together in "Vivat Bacchus, Bacchus Lebe" in Act II. Likewise, tenor Edgaras Montvidas (Belmonte) lacked volume. He did look fairly good in a dress though. Karolina Andersson was still recovering from illness, so her Blonde was rather quiet, but her intonation was good. Brigitte Geller replaced an indisposed Brigitte Christensen, and Geller was audible but also shrill and occasionally off key. She also did not look like much competition for all the tall skinny supernumeraries who were part of Bassa Selim's harem, as she was rather short and squat.
* Tattling *
The audience was very sparse and booed during the performance and also at the end. There was no intermission, as many people would have left, one imagines. The performance was recommended for those over 18, but there was no warning about how many shots were fired. There were several during the second half, and they were deafeningly loud.
September 20 2008: Il Trovatore
November 1 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
January 24 2009: Faust
February 28 2009: The Adventures of Pinocchio
April 11 2009: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
September 27- October 31 2008: Manon
October 6- November 4 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 7-30 2008: Lulu
November 18- December 19 2008: Porgy and Bess
December 13 2008- January 29 2009: Madama Butterfly
January 19- February 28 2009: Tristan und Isolde
February 14- March 27 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 2-28 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Lyric Opera of Chicago announced their 2008-2009 season this morning. Natalie Dessay will be singing Manon, Nathan Gunn will be Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, William Burden is Alwa in Lulu, Patricia Racette sings Butterfly, and Dolora Zajick stars in Cavalleria. The Tristan und Isolde production is the Hockney one from Los Angeles, which is being performed this season, and was at San Francisco last season. Deborah Voigt will be singing Isolde with Clifton Forbis as Tristan. Juha Uusitalo is having his Lyric Opera debut as Kurwenal. Francesca Zambello's production Porgy and Bess from Washington National Opera is also coming to San Francisco, and was performed in Los Angeles last year.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail is one of my favorite operas, though in truth, this is more due to my familiarity with the music than anything else. Not to say that Mozart is not incredible, but it just happens that I have seen this opera more than any other, and knowing it this well only increases my enjoyment of it. This latest Bavarian State Opera production of Die Entführung was my fifth time seeing the opera, so I had quite a lot of prejudices going in, especially since the production team was the same as the one that was responsible for that hideous staging of Xerxes earlier this month.
Of the production, I can only say that Martin Duncan, the staging producer, and Ultz, the director, either did not understand the strength of Die Entführung's plot or didn’t care because they were too worried about their own “art” and cleverness that is so essential in our postmodern world. Die Entführung is a Singspiel, and includes speaking parts to move the drama along, most notably, Pasha Selim does not sing at all. This production took out these parts by use of a narrator, Fatma Genç, a Turkish German actress. By taking away the characters interaction with words, the drama is seriously compromised, the parts are merely arias and such strung along, sung by puppets. Most absurd was the part of Pasha Selim, naturally, since taking away the speaking parts renders him utterly silent. Worse yet, since the staging was done almost exclusively on six couches that moved back and for on stage, the choreography was not such that the characters could develop in a human way on stage, not even visually.
Just to give an idea of what proceeded, we began with our beloved group of ten men, dressed again in white tee-shirts and grey trousers. They put newspapers on the ground, and carefully placed bowls on stands so they hung off the edge of the stage. They undressed, revealing their diapers underneath, and carefully grabbed the sponges dipped in red paint in the bowls, then violently smeared their diaper covered crotches in red, indicating that they were eunuchs. For the rest of the production they went around placing newspapers on the floor when it would be mussed up by objects being thrown, taking various things off stage, and being moving tables covered with piles of fruit.
There were also soccer fans dressed in Turkish jerseys that wandered across the stage at various points.
As mentioned before, most of the action occurs on six couches that move to and fro across the stage, each a different color of the rainbow, not including indigo. There were dancers on the couches dressed in harem pants, fez-like hats, and bead necklaces that matched their respective couches and cholis that were a peach color. They danced while sitting on the couches during the overture, and the choreography was quite wanting, it looked like they were doing yoga at a frenetic pace and it didn’t at all go with the music. However, the dancers were fairly synchronized, and when they danced on the stage in the finale, they weren’t so bad.
In general, the choreography was extremely childish, in keeping with the rest of the production. The chorus bounced up and down during Singt dem großen Bassa Lieder that greets Pasha Selim during Act I, their hands balled up in little excited fists as well. This choreography, coupled with the lurid and unflattering costumes in orientalist style, made one think of high school musicals. In particular, something must needs be done about the hairstyles, why go through all of the trouble of dressing one’s characters in orientalist regalia, and just leave the hair looking straight out of the 80s? (I would say, straight off the street, but it seems that a certain percentage of German hairstyles are still from 20 years ago.) The costume department needs to use wigs.
Daniel Harding did a fine job with conducting rather passionately. The orchestra sounded just about perfect from what I could tell.
On the other hand, the singing was uneven. Ingrid Kaiserfeld was fairly good as Contanze, her voice sufficiently loud, her control imperfect, but the part is exceedingly difficult. Julia Rempe as Blonde was simply embarrassing. Her voice was tiny, one could barely hear her in that hall, if she were at San Francisco, which is much larger and has bad acoustics, she would have been silent. Sometimes Ms. Rempe got that high A, and one felt happy for her. She also was even quieter when sitting than standing, so the staging compromised her voice. Roberto Saccà was a good Belmonte, but I think the part just cannot be as difficult, since everyone I’ve heard as Belmonte has seemed quite good. Or else I’ve just had luck with tenors in this opera. Kevin Conners was excellent as Pedrillo, his Romance in Act III was beautiful, and one felt he was competing with a lot since there were five glittery fish hanging from the couch he was singing from, and a eunuch was rolling along on his back blowing bubbles, and to top it all off, two acrobats, representing Contanze and Blonde, flung themselves down by ribbons. Paata Burchuladze as Osmin was wanting in diction, but not in range. His endurance was not the best though, the earlier arias of his in Act I were noticeably better than his later ones. The chorus was grand, and the full effect of the loveliness of the choral music was realized in this production.
After the Act I someone screamed “Diese Entführung ist vertreibt!” or something like this. This Abduction has run off? I don’t know what it means exactly, but I believe the person left and was disgruntled.
I have a hard time understanding why a person, or a group of people, would feel the need to vocalize or clap at a television set. But I don't even understand the need to clap before the music is finished at the opera just because the singing is done, as in after an aria, and so forth, and that involves live humans fairly near at hand. So it isn't surprising that I don't understand. It just seems that audiences are very absorbed in themselves, they do not forget themselves and their own part. So interested in themselves and their role as consumers. The commodifaction of art is rather depressing, but nothing new.
Last Sunday's matinee of Die Entführung aus dem Serail was much better attended than the previous Sunday. The bass role was sung this time by Friedemann Röhlig, who is a skinny young man not as well suited to the role of Osmin as Michael Eder. Röhlig lacked gravity, and made the audience laugh quite a lot, which is certainly fine, as it is a comic role. But Eder's performance was more challenging, a little tragic even. More ambiguous. Röhlig's low range was nice, but he sounded uncomfortable higher up. I'm beginning to appreciate how hard that role is, the person it was written for had an impressive range.
Regina Schörg had the beginnings of influenza, and she was even more strained than before. I believe she missed a few high notes in her aria "Marten von alle Arten", but nevertheless, she did well under the circumstances.
This time I was struck by how nice the choreography was at the very end of the opera, when the chorus is singing as the Europeans take their leave of Pasha Selim. I also noticed that Belmonte's fall after his aria in Act I, "Konstanze! dich wiederzusehen, dich!" is rather absurd. There is another silly part where they have him throw his coat, but I don't remember at what point.
I was asked if I was from Tibet while in the standing room line. I also met some nice opera coots and discussed Monteverdi and Shakespeare.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail again on Sunday afternoon and Otello again with Tuesday evening. I was struck by how different the former opera's set looks up close and how consistent and monolithic the latter one's set was even when immediate.
The delicate projections used on the palace in Die Entführung aus dem Serail were lost on me in the dress circle, but from up close they were lovely. I decided on Sunday that I could hear Entführung at least ten times in a row and not tire of this lively music.
The choreography and staging for Otello seemed a bit more absurd close at hand, the two times Otello pushed Desdemona to the ground, the two times he fell down stairs, and the dropping of both scimitar and dagger down stairs. All somewhat much taken together.
Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail opened last night at San Francisco Opera, with Peter Schneider conducting, and a whole gaggle of singers, and one actor, from the Germanic realms.
The production seemed to not have confidence in either Mozart's music to enchant or the audience's ability to attend to this music, and the beautiful opening overture was marred by Belmonte coming out onstage and disrobing with the assistance of two servants, and changing into other attire. Other examples of this lack of confidence was seen in the five lines of English given to Blonde, one of which was "Here I am, an Englisher, speaking German to a Turk." These interspersed lines delighted the audience in a certain way, but they were distracting. There was also a ridiculous use of a cut out moon during Belmont's aria Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen in Act II, in which the moon was lowered all the way down, and Konstanze leaned against it as she was listening.
However, the singers all had pleasing voices. Paul Groves was the best tenor I've heard at SF Opera all season, and he sparkled as Belmonte. His voice had good volume and was sweetly supple. His spoken German stood out as non-native compared to the others though. Regina Schörg as Kontanze, on the other hand, had being Viennese to her advantage. Her voice was a pretty one, though at times it was strained and slightly brittle. Schörg did well in her back-to-back arias in Act II (Welcher Wechsel herrscht in meiner Seele and Martern aller Arten), she held back a little in the first one, but the second was simply beautiful.
Peter Bronder (Pedrillo), Jennifer Welch-Babidge (Blonde), and Michael Eder (Osmin) all were adequate in their parts. Welch-Babidge has a bird-like voice that was suited for Blonde. Eder's voice was just didn't quite carry perfectly, just a touch quiet, and he didn't quite get his low notes. Frank Hoffman was a fine Pasha Selim, a speaking part, and they were able to integrate the speaking and singing parts just so, never leaving one horribly confused on why this part is only spoken.
The staging was fairly good. The palace was a cross between a dollhouse and a wedding cake, which was cute, but the peach color added to a cultivated falseness of the set. The outer wall used in Act I was too dark of a mahogany for the lightness of the palace, the colors were not harmonious. The floor was done wonderfully though, blue tile with a vine pattern. The outer screen they used was painted showing the setting from afar, the sea with ships and the land with palace. It looked a bit like a tapestry with hues reminiscent of Chagall.
The choreography was artificial, lots of spinning and dancerly movements. Unfortunately the singers, save for Welch-Babidge, were not good enough dancers to carry this off well. Schörg looked uncomfortable wearing sandals in Act II, as if she didn't know she had feet before. Bronder shuffled and skipped like a young bird who couldn't stay still. However, Eder had a certain gravity of movement that was particularly good when he was praying. Just with slight but very graceful motions he was able to silence everyone.
The costumes were quite pretty, as usual. One would think that if they could get the costumes in harmonious hues, that they could make the set match.
We went to the Hungarian State Opera twice to see La Bohème and Manon Lescaut. They were having a Puccini Festival, so now I've seen more Puccini than anything else as far as opera goes. The opera house is so gorgeous, inside and out, though I've only been on the inside of five opera houses. The Markgräfliches Opernhaus in Bayreuth is the most fancy I've seen and the Wiener Volksoper the least.
In Vienna we went to see Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio at the Volksoper, and the difference between Puccini and Mozart was marked. Mozart is just incredible, even difference between his stereotype of "oriental" music and Saint-Saëns's shows this. The romantics just don't compare, not even to me, a person who really doesn't have much musical sense one way or other. I'm visual to a fault. The set and costumes were not to my taste, the set consisted of a modern glass palace that spun around, and the costumes were retro 40's. However, the singing was marvelous and so was the acting.