Eva-Maria Westbroek

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Met

MacB_0032a* Notes *
A revival of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk opened at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Graham Vick's 1994 production is humorous and makes quite good use of space, despite being essentially constrained to one room (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard). Though there was much going on at all times, the staging enhanced the piece, rather than detracting from it. The brides wielding vacuum cleaners in Act I and the disco ball of Act III were particularly entertaining.

Maestro James Conlon conducted the Met Orchestra to fine effect. The playing was intense yet polished. There were beautiful contributions from the bassoon, English horn, and bass clarinet. The brass sounded imposing. Likewise the chorus sounded together and formidable.

Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is a fiery Katerina Lvovna Ismailov, radiating strength, but able to sound desperate and ultimately despairing. Brandon Jovanovich convinced as Sergei. His voice is both powerful and lovely. Raymond Very's voice contrasted nicely with Jovanovich's. His Zinoviy Borisovich Izmailov was bungling without being a complete buffoon. Anatoli Kotscherga made for a sinister Boris Timofeyevich Izmailov, his voice entirely suiting the role.

* Tattling *
We sat in a part of the dress circle that was not especially crowded. At least one watch alarm and one mobile telephone rang during the second half of the opera.


Die Walküre at the Met (Cycle 2)

Met-walkuere-2012* Notes * 
The second Ring cycle this season at the Met continued with a matinée of Die Walküre (Act II, Scene 1 pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) yesterday. The limitations of "The Machine" became more apparent in this opera. Robert Lepage's direction is restricted by how the set moves and where people can exit and enter the stage. The motivation for the characters movements are clearly tied to this, and is therefore fairly predictable. Lionel Arnould's video images are less abstract in
Walküre than Rheingold, with shadowy figures playing out the various narratives. The giant eyeball near the end of Act II, Scene 1 that doubled as a crystal ball was particularly silly. Other effects were staged very nicely. The Ride of the Valkyries was spectacular, as was the final Fire Music. The costumes, from François St-Aubin, were rather shiny.

The music was played neatly by the orchestra, Luisi did not push the music, and there were only a few minor brass errors. The Walküren were even and strong, very little if any shrillness was noted.

Frank van Aken, the husband of Eva-Maria Westbroek, sang in place of Jonas Kaufmann, who is reportedly ill. As Siegmund, van Aken blended well with his wife, who sang Sieglinde. Unfortunately, his voice is too small for the Met, and he had some noticeable intonation problems, perhaps because he was trying to sing as loudly as possible. Westbroek's voice is rawer than I remembered, having a roughness at the top. She sang her part in Act III with strength. Hans-Peter König sang Hunding with the right power and menace.

Stephanie Blythe sounded robust as Fricka. Katarina Dalayman made for a pretty, resonant Brünnhilde. The afternoon belonged to Byrn Terfel (Wotan), who sang this opera with authority and richness.

* Tattling *
Family Circle was not full, so many standees took seats. This made the standing area much more roomy.


Die Walküre at the Met (Lepage)

Walkuere-act-3-metWhilst the Opera Tattler attended a performance of Séance on a Wet Afternoon at the David H. Koch Theater on April 28, 2011, Miss LCU was nearby at Lepage's new production of Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) with the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
Of late, James Levine gets credit for simply showing up on the podium. The audience is so thrilled to see the ailing maestro that it seems he can do no wrong. However, I was not terribly impressed with the orchestra for the second performance of this latest Walküre. For one thing, the prelude was especially lackluster and rhythmically bridled. It was as if the orchestra was playing in exact unison to the measured beat of a metronome. There was a paucity of energy and agitato one would expect from music meant to represent a man who is frantically running from his pursuers in a storm. Thankfully things improved as the evening progressed.

As Brünnhilde, Deborah Voigt hit most of her notes and did not struggle with pitch. While she gave a very youthful, sassy portrayal of the valiant Valkyrie, her voice lacked nuance. She was generally at one dynamic level and yelped the high Bs and Cs when singing the word "Hojotoho." It sounded like she had hiccups and looking at the score, the composer did not intend for those octave leaps to end in clipped staccato. Voigt's interaction with Bryn Terfel as Wotan worked well. The two succeeded in establishing their close rapport and fondness for one another in Act II, making the heartbreak of their farewell at the end all the more devastating.

Terfel's Wotan was multifaceted and robust, even until the very end. He clearly did a fine job pacing himself. As Siegmund, Jonas Kaufmann was both convincing and lyrical. His voice carried effortlessly and his "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnermond" consisted of one glorious legato line after another.

In contrast, Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde) gave a somewhat disappointing performance and the strain in her voice was evident as she fought through her last phrases in beginning of Act III, which are among the most beautiful lines of music in the opera. She did have cold on opening night, so perhaps she was still on the mend.

The highlight of the evening was, surprisingly, Stephanie Blythe's portrayal of Fricka. For the first time, I saw Fricka as something other than a vindictive, nagging shrew. I was reminded that she is a woman in pain, someone who has been deeply hurt by Wotan's transgressions. Blythe opens up her character's vulnerabilities to the audience, suggesting that perhaps she, too, deserves a bit of our sympathy. In order to uphold the Law, she demands punishment and justice, but we often mistake her for someone who is solely out to seek revenge.

Wagner was deeply influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer who was known for his pessimistic view of the human condition and his philosophy of the "Will," a concept so important that Wagner felt it was necessary to use Brünnhilde to personify Wotan's Will as a separate entity apart from himself. Schopenhauer also makes a clear distinction between punishment (to prevent future violations of the law) and revenge (motivated by reconciling past wrongdoings with the pure intent to harm and no constructive impact on the future).

Perhaps Fricka is after revenge and cunningly disguises it as punishment. Wagner leaves just enough ambiguity in his score to make us wonder. The true thrill of this particular production was not delivered by Lepage's ostentatious morphing planks, but with subtlety through Blythe's artistry and empathy for her character.

Regietheater seems to operate on the notion that in order for us to make old works exciting and relevant to the younger generations, we must to rely on shock value. The beauty of Wagner's work lies within the inconspicuous moments that expose human frailty and intimacy. Directors may consider paying more attention to the small details hidden in the score rather than embellishing the composers work with obscenely grand spectacles that are neither necessary nor relevant.


Die Walküre at SF Opera

Mark Delavan (Wotan) and Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde) with the Valkyries, photo by Cory Weaver * Notes * 
Die Walküre had a stunning opening last night at San Francisco Opera. There was never a dull moment from the orchestra pit, and Donald Runnicles kept the tempi apace, and rarely overwhelmed the singers. There were some notes that were out of tune or not perfectly clear from the brass, but for the most part, the sound was warm and full. The singing was intensely beautiful. The Walküren included many current and former Adlers and Merolini: Maya Lahyani (Siegrune), Tamara Wapinsky (Helmwige), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Gerhilde), Daveda Karanas (Waltraute), Suzanne Hendrix (Schwertleite). Joined by Priti Gandhi (Rossweise), Pamela Dillard (Grimgerde), and Molly Fillmore (Ortlinde), they sounded hearty.

Raymond Aceto was a mean little bully as Hunding, perfectly appropriate for the role, he did not sound heroic at all and was very believable. Janina Baechle likewise filled the role of Fricka rather perfectly. Mark Delavan did well as Wotan, his voice is pretty, though perhaps slightly light. Christopher Ventris sang Siegmund with conviction, and sounded lovely with Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde. Ventris sounded somewhat ragged by the end of Act I, but sang Act II gorgeously. Westbroek had a lot of power, and very little strain. Nina Stemme was also incredible, she has a wonderful control of her voice, and her timbre is pleasing.

Francesca Zambello's production, on the other hand, was at best inoffensive. The projections, designed by Jan Hartley, started off with a watery screen saver and then took a turn toward The Blair Witch Project. The repeated use of lightning was painfully cliché. The sets, from Michael Yeargan, are serviceable enough. The first scene was exceedingly predictable, one could see right away that the front of the house would lift up and the sides would come apart. The second half of Act II looked very familiar, I believe Bayreuth's current Ring has a freeway scene as well. The third act was a crowd pleaser, and while I enjoyed the absurdity and theatrics of parachuting Walküren, it did not seem appropriate to distract from the orchestra at this point in the music.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly attentive, though the women in Row T Seats 5 and 7 of the Orchestra Level spoke at two points during Act II, both times when the orchestra was playing. They did not return for Act III. There were some watch alarms at each hour, but they were not close to me, and I could barely hear them. There was an electronic sound, either a phone, watch, or hearing aid, that intoned a noise as Siegmund sang about the circumstances of how he lost his weapons. There were also shrill noises during when Siegmund sings about Sieglinde ("Ist es der Blick der blühenden Frau"). I could not tell if they were coming from the stage or behind it.

John Marcher was kind enough to take me to this performance, and we happened to sit next to Lisa Hirsch, who has, charmingly enough, tattled on herself. SFMike was seen at the intermissions, as were many others.


Die Walküre at the Bayreuther Festpiele

Bayreuther-walkuere * Notes * 
Bayreuth's Ring cycle continued with Die Walküre last night. Once again, the orchestra sounded lovely under the direction of Christian Thielemann, and the brass was particularly fine. The singing was stronger overall than in Das Rheingold. The Walküren did sang admirably, their voices were well-matched. Michelle Breedt was shrill as Fricka, but her characterization of the role was forceful. Linda Watson (Brünnhilde) had a poor start, her notes were not secure and the piercing quality of her voice is unsettling. Watson did have some lovely moments later on, especially when she did not have to overtax herself to be heard over the orchestra. Eva-Maria Westbroek gave a powerful, yet nuanced performance as Sieglinde. She did gasp a bit in Act I, but otherwise her voice was stunning.

Albert Dohmen (Wotan) sounded more assured in Die Walküre than he did the previous night. He sounds best when the orchestration is less heavy. Wotans Abschied von Brünnhilde und Feuerzauber was particularly moving. Kwangchul Youn looked like cruel, brutish Hunding, but in his voice he sounded more stoic and restrained. His physicality in his sudden death was impressive. Endrik Wottrich also embodied the role of Siegmund, but his voice, though warm and pleasant, lacked radiance. Wottrich was also slightly quiet, especially next to Westbroek.

Tankred Dorst's production has both clever and confusing moments. It was entertaining when Siegmund pulled Notung out of a fallen utility pole, and the set for the last act was formidable. On the other hand, the doubling of Wotan in Act II as he sends Brünnhilde off was rather contrived, and the children chasing a man with a bicycle was simply odd. The costumes were appealing, especially the smart red outfits of the Walküren.

* Tattling * 
Someone had a medical emergency near the end of Act I, Scene 2. There was a terrible choking sound and evidently the person fell unconscious. She had to be carried out of the hall by two men, and a door was unlocked to get her help. The people in her row were reluctant to stand up to let her out, and the performance continued as if nothing had happened.