René Pape

SF Opera's Don Carlo

_B5A5263* Notes *
The latest Don Carlo (Valentina Simi as Countess of Aremberg, Ana María Martínez as Elisabetta, Nadia Krasteva as Princess Eboli, René Pape as King Philip II, and Mariusz Kwiecień as Rodrigo in Act II Scene 2; photograph by Cory Weaver) that opened at San Francisco Opera this afternoon is impeccably cast from top to bottom. Michael Fabiano is a brilliant Don Carlo, with powerful high notes. Ana María Martínez sings Elisabetta with icy purity and strength. Her formidable vibrato is controlled.

René Pape is completely believable as King Philip II, his rich tones sounded mature if not slightly weathered. Mariusz Kwiecień made for a warm, sympathetic Rodrigo, his famous duet with Fabiano in Act II Scene 1 ("Dio, che nell'alma infondere") was beautiful, as was his death scene aria "Io morrò, ma lieto in core." Nadia Krasteva (Princess Eboli) has a darkness and a hard edge that works well for the role. Her "O don fatale" in Act IV Scene 1 was surprisingly lovely.

Even the smallest roles had fine singing, including Andrea Silvestrelli as the Grand Inquistor, Pene Pati as Count Lerma, and Toni Marie Palmertree as a Heavenly Voice.

The orchestra members also acquitted themselves well under the direction of Maestro Nicola Luisotti. There were moments that were fuzzy, but for the most part the music flowed nicely and was phrased skillfully.

The sets are spare and costumes lavish. Everything was very pretty to look at but a bit dull. The scene changes require a lot of pauses and this dampens the dramatic import of the proceedings.

* Tattling *
I arrived 30 minutes late as I did not realize the curtain time was 1pm rather than the normal 2pm because of the length of this opera, so I missed the first scene. Terrible!

Sadly there was much misbehavior other than my own in balcony standing room. Lots of talking and fidgeting, and at least one cellular phone. Someone exclaimed very loudly to himself during Act IV when the Grand Inquisitor tells the King that God sacrificed His own son for mankind, so he can surely kill Don Carlo without a bad conscience.

Parsifal at the Met

Met-parsifal-2013* Notes * 
François Girard's production of Parsifal opened at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday. The contemporary set features stark imagery. The red lake that dominates the second act (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) is particularly striking. The angular choreography fits nicely with the staging and the clean costuming. The video is difficult to view in Family Circle, but seems benign and includes images of clouds, aurora borealis, and water. At times, the rippling effects were a bit overblown. The lighting is pleasing. The last scene involves Parsifal putting the Holy Spear in the Grail held by Kundry, a nod to the pagan fertility rituals that may have given rise to the Arthurian romances on which this work is based. For some reason this struck me as clumsy compared to the sleek modernity of Act II.

Conducted by Daniele Gatti, the orchestra played moderately, sounding neither austere nor sprightly. The brass was clear. The chorus was as impressive as ever: perfectly synchronized, strong, and full. Katarina Dalayman was not an alluring Kundry, but she did seem more than half-mad. Evgeny Nikitin was a convincing Klingsor. Peter Mattei was likewise believable as Amfortas, and his voice is immediately appealing. René Pape shone as Gurnemanz. His voice is warm and rich, and he sounds imposing. Jonas Kaufmann did well with the title role, though I find his voice less readily likeable than others, perhaps because of his nasality. Kaufmann was riveting in Act II Scene 2. He has a keen understanding of what he is singing and can convey this to the audience.

* Tattling * 
Every sort of bad behavior was on display for the prima. Watch alarms sounded, mobile phones rang, photographs were taken, some talked, others snored, and there was applause after the first act. During the performance of Act I, someone in Family Circle demanded, at full volume, that he not be touched again.

Faust at the Met

Met-faust-rene-pape* Notes * 
A new production of Faust, directed by Des McAnuff, opened at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Robert Brill's set is pleasingly spare, and the twin spiral staircases were put to cunning use. The transitions from scene to scene were clean and simple, aided by lighting designer Peter Mumford and video designer Sean Nieuwenhuis. Some of the images used were rather silly, especially the enormous red roses on the rear projection screen in Act III. The large projections of the characters heads were not flattering. Nonetheless, the moving clouds and green flames were effective in transforming the space. The costumes, by Paul Tazewell, did not appear to have a consistency to them as far as period is concerned. For instance, the chorus in Act II looked like they had wandered in from some entirely different opera. Kelly Devine's choreography was entertaining, people in lab coats spinning about and the dancing during "Le veau d'or" were particularly amusing. Overall, though it seemed McAnuff had some good ideas, the production simply seemed somewhat scattered and random.

The orchestra sounded lovely under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who kept the tempi moving and the dynamics restrained. There were a few chaotic moments, but for the most part, the playing and singing were synchronized. The chorus was occasionally a hair behind the orchestra in Act II, but "Déposons les armes" and "Sauvée! Christ est ressuscité" were both sung solidly.

The principal cast was uneven. Michèle Losier (Siébel) sounded a bit raw, but she does have a nice brightness to her voice. Russell Braun was a serviceable Valentin, though I believe he and the flute were not exactly together in his first aria. Marina Poplavskaya did not impress as Marguerite, her high notes are ugly and her singing has no line to it, as her breath support is lacking. She does have a pleasant darkness to her voice at least. René Pape (pictured above, photograph by Ken Howard) was a convincing Méphistophélès, he moves well and the choreography suited him. Pape has a beautiful voice with a great deal of warmth. Jonas Kaufmann made for a fine, though perhaps dull, Faust. He has a gorgeous legato and perfect control. The baritonal qualities of his pretty voice came out in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Because of the gala pricing of this event, the tickets were not sold out in the Family Circle, and one was unable to purchase standing room tickets at the back of the house. Nonetheless, a few standees were to be seen there.

Loud complaints were heard during the music concerning personal effects left in aisles and the kicking of seats. Someone crumpled a plastic bag during Acts II and III. At least two watch alarms were heard at each hour.

Boris Godunov at the Met

Met-boris This season, the Metropolitan Opera is presenting two operas that weave personal emotional drama into the sweep of great historical events: Boris Godunov and Don Carlo. On October 8, the final dress rehearsal of Boris took place, and what follows are the Unbiased Opinionator's impressions.

* Notes * 
After Peter Stein's cancellation due to visa difficulties, it was left to Stephen Wadsworth, in only five weeks, to rework the show's staging and direction. Perhaps as a result of this abrupt change in leadership, René Pape's Boris seemed lost, staggering about the stage, looking more drunk than physically and emotionally tormented by the burdens of power and guilt. His vocal delivery seemed to lack core, which might be attributed to the early hour of the rehearsal. Nonetheless, his sound was diffuse and as the rehearsal progressed, tended toward a barked delivery, even in the more legato monologues. I am a great admirer of René Pape's work, however, he seemed miscast here – the effective center of his range is higher than the role demands. But, then, where are the true bassi of yore, those cast in the mold of Ghiarov, George London or Jerome Hines, let alone Chaliapin?

That said, the remaining, very large, solo cast was uniformly strong. Particularly fine were Ekaterina Semenchuk (Marina) and Aleskadrs Antonenko (Grigoriy). The performance by the young Jonathan A. Makepeace as Boris' son Fyodor was nothing short of astonishing: vocally, dramatically and choreographically. This role is often taken by a mezzo-soprano, and such a level of accomplishment by an adolescent was immensely impressive. I cannot imagine a better Pimen (bass Mikhail Petrenko), whose solemn portrayal of the hermit was very moving. Evgeny Nikitin's Rangoni could perhaps be faulted for a certain ragged vocal delivery, but this was in keeping with the smarminess of the character, alternately coming on sexually to Marina and trying convince her to seduce Grigoriy into returning to Moscow to claim the throne, paving the way for the destruction of Russian Orthodoxy by Rome.

The large chorus in Boris Godunov is a character in itself, and a very important one. Driven and oppressed, veering from servile obedience to outraged vengeance, the Met chorus was dramatically magnificent and technically unimpeachable, with razor sharp attacks, violent and dramatically overwhelming outbursts -- never yelled, or (as in previous years) fraught with poor blend and heavy vibrato in the soprano section. Donald Palumbo's work with this group has created one of the world's finest opera choruses.

As in Wagner, the orchestra is also itself a character in the opera; never a mere accompaniment, but rather a commentator on and instigator of the events taking place on stage. The incomparable Met orchestra rose to the occasion, which is particularly impressive in light of the fact that the weakest link in this performance was conductor Valery Gergiev, whose head remained buried in the score as he threw out the occasional cue with his left hand, while the right hand flaccidly and indistinctly waved about in unintelligible beat patterns. It is a tribute to the soloists, the choral ensemble and the orchestra that the performance was as cohesive as it was, with only occasional lack of coordination between the pit and the stage. Further, the tempi chosen by Gergiev, in particular in the prologue and in the Third Act Polonaise, were unconscionably rushed. The small string figures that spin over the characteristic rhythm of the Polonaise were reduced to a thin wash as the players struggled to keep up. One can only surmise, generously, that tempo choices were dictated by time constraints.

The set design was spare – even abstract, with the Novodievichy Monastery in the first act reduced to a small entry portal on stage left. The Kremlin consisted of a gold wall which descended from the flies, with a small curtained door for Boris' entrances and exits. While this created a wonderful acoustic resonator for the singers, the row of bells at the top of the set, remaining motionless as digitally produced bell sounds pealed, was frankly a bit silly. The Polish court scene consisted of rows of black columns, which provided a fine backdrop for the elaborate white gowns and hats worn by the noblewomen (designed by Dorothee Urmacher). The triumphant return of Grigory the Pretender's forces in Varmy forest, en route to Moscow, was set on a bare, raked staged, with a central rectangular opening, out of which emerged banner-waiving soldiers and two white horses, which reinforced the old maxim – live animals and children are scene-stealers. At the conclusion, the Holy Fool (in a very fine delivery by tenor Andrey Popov), bemoans the dark destiny of Mother Russia; godless, populated by a mob and rabble ready to follow any leader strong enough to bludgeon his way to power.

* Tattling * 
Peter Gelb's latest innovation, offering 1,000 dress rehearsal tickets by lottery, in addition to those offered to patrons and guild members, combined with a thoughtful and intelligent spoken introduction, and his humorous admonition that the only electrical devices that should operate during the performance be on stage and not in the auditorium, provided for a mercifully quiet, disciplined and cellphone-free audience. If only this were the case in performances and not just dress rehearsals!

Unter den Linden's 2009-2010 Season

August 29 2009- April 5 2010: Tristan und Isolde
September 6- October 10 2009: La Traviata

September 5- November 14 2009: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
September 7-22 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
September 15-17 2009: Così fan Tutte
September 23- October 25 2009 : Der Rosenkavalier
October 1- April 23 2010: Salome
October 24 2009- March 30 2010: Simon Boccanegra 
November 1-15 2009: Lohengrin
November 19 2009- February 20 2010: La Bohème
November 21- December 6 2009: Die Fledermaus
December 7-22 2009: Il Turco in Italia
December 9 2009- January 9 2010: Die Zauberflöte
January 8-16 2010: Madama Butterfly
January 17-23 2010: Die Ferne Klang
February 4-14 2009: Agrippina
February 11- May 7 2010: Le Nozze di Figaro
February 21- March 7 2010: Faust
March 10- May 15 2010: Carmen
March 26- June 5 2010: Eugene Onegin 
April 9-25 2010: Tosca
May 16-30 2010: L'etoile
May 18-28 2010: L'elisir d'amore

René Pape sings Gremin in Eugene Onegin and Méphistophélès in Faust. Domingo sings the title role in Boccanegra. Magdalena Kožená is Lazuli in L'etoile, conducted by Simon Rattle.

Official Site | 2009-2010 Season [PDF]

Die Walküre at the Met (Schenk)

Marty-Sohl-Met-Opera * Notes * 
Last night's performance of Die Walküre at the Met was more impressive than Das Rheingold. For the most part, the orchestra continued playing rather cleanly, though there was noticeable trumpet error in Act I. The singing in this act was especially strong. René Pape sounded very different as Hunding than as Fasolt the previous night. Adrianne Pieczonka sang Sieglinde with great beauty, she has a big voice with a controlled vibrato. Her German is clear, especially in contrast to Plácido Domingo's mumbling. Diction aside, Domingo was incredible as Siegmund, very heroic, with lovely high notes and fine volume. The rest of the cast sounded hale as well. Albert Dohmen was distinguished himself by singing his farewell to Brünnhilde quite exquisitely. Yvonne Naef was strident as Fricka, though this is appropriate to the role. As for the Valkyries themselves, they were a disparate bunch, some voices were quite pretty, others rather shrill, and they did not always blend perfectly when singing together. Katarina Dalayman is promising as Brünnhilde, her low notes are warm and pleasant.

The stage was dark for much of the opera, at least from the Family Circle. As a result, it was difficult to discern what exactly was going on, though the characters did pace about the stage quite a bit.

* Tattling * 
One of the Walküren did a face-plant during Act III. This provoked some gasps and titters.

There were two watch alarms at 7pm, and a telephone rang during Act III. Standing room was tight during Act II, and I simply stopped looking at the stage during that act, since it was not of much interest anyway. I noted much whispering from the people next to us, which continued during the singing, and was still audible after they found seats during Act III. The rest of the audience was fairly quiet.

After the first intermission, one of my companions overheard someone say "I either have to go home or die quickly." I hope the person in question got home safely.

Das Rheingold at the Met (Schenk)

Ken-Howard-Met-Opera * Notes * 
The second cycle of the Met's Der Ring des Nibelungen began yesterday night. The orchestra sounded very clean and restrained under James Levine. The tempi were often rather slow. All of the singing was solid, though not terribly exciting. As Wotan, Albert Dohmen did well, though his voice was a bit thin at times. Yvonne Naef had
some very lovely, pleading moments as Fricka. Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia) had some shrillness, as did the Rheintöchter. Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) gave a particularly convincing performance, he was brutish, and his singing in Scene 4 was heartrending. Dennis Petersen failed to steal the show as Loge, as can happen in this opera, but did not sing poorly. The giants were grand, their voices are distinct, René Pape (Fasolt) was sweet, John Tomlinson (Fafner) was mean, and all was as it should be, one supposes. Wendy White's Erda was most moving, though she was a bit shaky at first, she sang her words of warning with much authority.

The Otto Schenk production is amusingly campy, though I imagine that this was not the intent. Though servicable, the rock formations of the set look especially dated. One does appreciate how quickly the sets are changed, and without all the banging and such that we hear at some other opera houses. The staging itself was occasionally hilarious, from Freia's fey bouncing back and forth across the stage to Alberich's transformations in Scene 3. Fasolt's death did not have the appropriate gravitas, having Fafner throw him off stage, and then attack him with a walking stick/scepter was somehow ridiculous.

* Tattling * 
The performance began 10 minutes late, and the line to get in the house was enormous. Certain people in the last row of the Family Circle refused to be quiet. They spoke at full volume all night, despite repeated admonitions from fellow audience members and even an usher. A watch alarm sounded the hour of 9, as Loge made his first appearance. There were many buzzes and squeaks throughout the evening, perhaps from either hearing aids or microphones.

My companion in standing room guffawed at Fasolt's death. He did have to cope with my jet-lag induced antisness, I was constantly fidgeting for the first half, and did not get a second wind until the anvil part that opens the third scene.

Lyric Opera's 2009-2010 Season

September 26 2009- January 29 2010: Tosca
October 5- November 7 2009: Faust
October 27- November 23 2009: Ernani
November 22- Deceumber 12 2009: Katya Kabanova
December 5 2009- January 16 2010: The Merry Widow
January 23- February 22 2010: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 20- March 17 2010: La Damnation de Faust
February 28- March 27 2010: Le Nozze di Figaro

René Pape and Kyle Ketelsen share the role of Mephistopheles in Faust. Salvatore Licitra sings opposite of Sondra Radvanovsky in Ernani. Karita Mattila will sing the title-role of Katya Kabanova. Susan Graham, Paul Groves and John Relyea star in La Damnation. Le Nozze features Joyce DiDonato and Mariusz Kwiecien.

Tribune Article | Official Site

Staatsoper Unter den Linden's 2008-2009 Season

August 16-17 2008: Medea
August 30- September 18 2008: Fidelio
September 5-19 2008: The Gambler
September 7-21 2008: Tristan und Isolde
September 16 2008- February 20 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
September 27- October 25 2008: Eugene Onegin
October 3 2008- January 25 2009: Tosca
October 7- December 4 2008: La Traviata
October 31- November 4 2008: Dido & Aeneas
November 7- December 11 2008: Così fan tutte
November 16 2008- July 4 2009: Hölderlin
November 20- December 21 2008: L'Italiana in Algeri
December 10 2008- February 14 2009: Turandot
December 19 2008- July 6 2009: Die Zauberflöte
January 10-30 2009: Carmen
January 16-20 2009: Phaedra
February 15-28 2009: Faust
February 21- March 7 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
March 6-9 2009: Parsifal
March 15-31 2009: Don Giovanni
April 8-12 2009: Lohengrin
April 15-24 2009: Macbeth
March 14- April 2 2009: Aida
May 8-17 2009: Orlando Paladino
May 22-June 6 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 25- June 2 2009: Elektra
June 7-29 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
June 12-19 2009: Salome

René Pape sings Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, in Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, and Heinrich der Vogler in Lohengrin. Waltraud Meier sings Leonore in the first performances of Fidelio and returns for Kundry in Parsifal. Lawrence Brownlee sings Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Gustavo Dudamel conducts Don Giovanni. Haydn's Orlando Paladino replaces the Armida that was to be directed by Peter Mussbach.

2008-2009 Season | Official Site

Don Giovanni at Unter den Linden

Dongiovannisoudl1* Notes *
Intendant Peter Mussbach's production of Don Giovanni currently at Staatsoper Unter den Linden is muddled. It is difficult to believe Mussbach is a neurologist, given how brainless this co-production with La Scala was. There was quite a lot of ineffectual choreography, every person on stage falls to the ground at some point, usually for no particular reason. There was also a lot of spinning around and staggering, sometimes this was well motivated, and sometimes seemed random. People exited at strange times, in the middle of the other singers' arias, or in many different directions. The set is much too loud, the three walls that were pushed all around the stage creaked, and since they were moving during the music, it was often distracting. The set changed even when scene changes were not necessary. There were at least a hundred pieces of tape on the stage to mark where walls or people needed to be, all clearly visible from the balconies. Perhaps if one requires that much tape, the staging is too complicated. It was reminiscent of a monolithic rat maze, and I'm sure that was intentional. There were only a few props, these included two swords, one knife, a white Vespa, an umbrella, a revolver, a pheasant leg, a bottle, and one chair. Absurdly, Masetto is made to mime having a musket in Act II, but produces the revolver from his pocket. Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's costumes were nice to look at, but the female dancers wore high heels and sounded like a herd of elephants. This was absolutely horrible during "Fin ch'han dal vino" and at the end of Act I, as these dancers ran around and drowned the singing. Also, the Commendatore looked like one of those living statue buskers one sees at Fisherman's Wharf, as he had his face painted silver and donned silver clothing.

Asher Fisch seemed to have gotten a handle of the orchestra by the third performance I saw last night. The musicians rarely overwhelmed the singers and many of the synchronization issues were corrected. Sylvia Schwartz twittered as Zerlina, she was somewhat quieter than the other two sopranos, but still much louder than her Masetto, Arttu Kataja. The pair looked very nice together and they acted well. Bass Hanno Müller-Brachmann also acted well as Leporello, he was funny and lascivious. His voice was strong, but he was ever so slightly late in his arias. Annette Dasch looked stunning as Donna Elvira and though her voice is somewhat fluttery, it was always in tune and very pretty. Christof Fischesser made a bigger impression on me as the Commendatore than as the Landgraf in Tannhäuser. His volume was strong and his tone full. Jeremy Ovenden was quiet as Don Ottavio, and the orchestra was sensitive to this, they played quietly in his arias. He was completely overwhelmed by his Donna Anna, Anna Samuil. Samuil had some poor intonation, she was flat in "Non mi dir" last Friday, but was closer to being in tune yesterday. Ironically, just after that aria, two of the walls seem to flatten her. In the title role, René Pape sang beautifully, especially "Deh vieni alla finestra." The stage is unlit at this point, as he is supposed to be serenading Donna Elvira's maid at night, and this confused the audience. Pape's Don is more lovable than most, he isn't quite as slimy or mean as he could have been.

* Tattling *
The audience for Don Giovanni was consistently worse than for the other performances at the Staatsoper. People spoke aloud during arias, such as Don Ottavio's "Dalla sua pace." The young German-speaking women in Tier 3, Right Middle Row 4 Seats 16 and 17 were very annoyed that they could not see the supertitles because of the chandelier, and expressed this at full volume during Don Ottavio and Donna Anna's duet "Fuggi, crudele fuggi" in Act I. One of them also had a coughing fit during "Deh vieni alla finestra," which they were compelled to discuss out loud.

Again someone on the left side of the third tier was wearing a watch with an alarm on the hour, which was audible at each hour, though at least at 9pm it was intermission. The school group from Majorca returned, and they must have been exhausted, for they were also at the Röschmann | Kozená | Barenboim concert earlier that day. They did not take flash photographs this time.

Don Carlo at Unter den Linden

Doncarlorp1* Notes *
The penultimate performance this season of Don Carlo at Staatsoper Unter den Linden was last Monday. The opera was presented in Italian as four acts, which does not start off with Don Carlo and Elisabetta meeting in Fontainebleau. Philipp Himmelmann's production included many scrims and walls, designed by Johannes Leiacker. The set made the scene changes smooth and simple, but the set changed more than strictly necessary and the constant movement was distracting. However, this was nothing compared to the ridiculous stage directions. When Elisabetta ironically suggests patricide to Carlo with the words "Compi l'opra a svenar corri il padre," she started aggressively ironing napkins. The auto de fé scene at the end of Act II was terrifying, but the condemned did not need to be ducted taped as the orchestra played, it was much too loud. The scene was shocking, as the five being executed were completely naked and vulnerable. Having them drawn by the feet upwards with ropes was in keeping with the plot, but once the penitents started spinning themselves around like aerialists, it just became absurd rather than horrifying. But the most egregious part of the staging was when Rodrigo sang his last aria in Act III, "O Carlo, ascolta." As he is dying, he begs Carlo to take his hand, and in this production, Carlo sits in a chair and turns away. It is utterly inhuman, given that Rodrigo is his best friend, who has sacrificed himself for Carlo.

I saw this opera last week with a somewhat different cast, René Pape as Filippo and Andrew Richards as Don Carlo. Peter Rose was certainly loud enough as Filippo this time around, his tone is rich and warm. However, his performance was fairly bland until Act III Scene 1, when he sang about how Elisabetta never loved him. Tenor Franco Farina likewise was not as strong as Richards, there was something not quite right with the famous duet "Dio, che nell' alma infondere." Farina was both flat and sharp and his voice lacks heft. Alfredo Daza was fine as Rodrigo, though he too was overwhelmed by the orchestra at times. Kurt Rydl was a shaky as the Inquisitore and difficult to hear. In the absence of René Pape, Norma Fantini (Elisabetta) was the strongest of the cast, she sounded in tune, though her vibrato is a bit wide.  She had some lovely moments, especially in "Toi qui sus le néant" at the end. Mezzo Ildiko Komlosi was tiresome as Eboli, she gasped with every breath and was entirely out of tune in her last aria "O don fatale," as she curses her fatal beauty.

* Tattling *
Instead of having an announcement about turning off cellular phones, the Staatsoper Berlin just plays a recording of a ring. It is convincingly real if one has not heard it before and simple, not needing any translation. On this particular evening the audience was embarrassingly sparse, though there was a fair amount of whispering. The third tier was still incredibly warm, despite not being stuffed with that many bodies.

7th Performance of Don Giovanni at Unter den Linden

* Notes *
The April performances of Don Giovanni at Staatsoper Unter den Linden began last night, conducted by Asher Fisch. There were a few times that the orchestra and singers were not quite together, but worse was all the banging coming from backstage. Doubtless this will improve over time, but it was not particularly impressive.

I think I may have heard Mariusz Kwiecien sing the title role a few too many times (I believe it was eight times in the last year), for I found René Pape a bit strange in the role, though he is one of my favorite singers. Pape lacks a certain unctuousness that Kwiecien absolutely embodies. Pape also sounded a slightly quiet, his Champagne aria was distracted, perhaps because of all the dancing happening behind him. However, his "Deh vieni alla finestra" was wonderful.

Much of the cast seemed quiet to me, Jeremy Ovenden was a muffled Don Ottavio and Arttu Kataja (Masetto) was all but inaudible. As Zerlina, Sylvia Schwartz's voice was perfectly bird-like and small, and showed a bit of strain at the beginning. She sang "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" well. Anna Samuil was fairly good as Donna Anna, though she sounded a bit out of tune during "Or sai chi l'onore."

Hanno Müller-Brachmann was very funny as Leporello and he sang "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" especially nicely. Annette Dasch was the first Donna Elvira I have heard in the last year that did not have an exceedingly wide vibrato and was actually in tune.

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with the performance. There was one moment when everything came together in the finale of Act I, suddenly everything came into focus, at least musically, in the last 3 minutes. That quality was not sustained in Act II. I will save my various snide comments about the production for my more definitive review of this opera, next week, after a few more viewings.

* Tattling *
The British people next to me were utterly boggled by the cast of characters and could not figure out who was who. Needless to say, the production did not help them, and of course, they did not read German. It was almost cute, how they couldn't figure out if Donna Elvira was the blonde or who was engaged to Don Ottavio. To be fair, there seemed to be an error in the English synopsis. Personally, I thought it was quite obvious that Donna Elvira was the one with the impressive décolleté, but refrained from saying anything to them.

Sächsische Staatsoper's 2008-2009 Season

August 29 2008- March 26 2009: Cleofide
August 31 2008- May 16 2009: Die Zauberflöte
September 3 2008- July 8 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
September 14-20 2009: Don Carlo
September 26- October 4 2008: Macbeth
October 8-24 2008: Tannhäuser
October 10 2008- April 14 2009: Turandot
October 11-25 2008: Il Trovatore
October 15-27 2008: Don Giovanni
October 26- December 27 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
October 29 2008- March 19 2009: Euryanthe
November 8 2008 -June 18 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
November 13-25 2008: Ariadne auf Naxos
November 16-22 2008: Così fan tutte
November 19 2008- May 8 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 26 2008- January 30 2009: Die Fledermaus
December 5-10 2008: Lohengrin
December 6 2008-March 28 2009: Der Freischütz
December 17 2008 - July 3 2009: Boris Godunov
January 6-11 2009: La Damnation de Faust
January 10-23 2009: Madama Butterfly
January 25- February 2 2009: Elektra
January 31- July 4 2009: Tosca
February 2-9 2009: Carmen
February 18-26 2009: Fidelio
February 22- March 1 2009: Tristan und Isolde
March 14-25 2009: Die Liebe der Danae
March 15-23 2009: Cardillac
April 3-16 2009: Peter Grimes
April 10-13 2009: Parsifal
April 12- June 7 2009: Der Fliegende Holländer
April 24-30 2009: La Cenerentola
May 14-30 2009: La Bohème
May 15-27 2009: Aida
May 19-26 2009: Dead Man Walking
June 1- July 2 2009: L'Upupa
June 19-25 2009: Salome
June 20-27 2009: Otello

René Pape is singing the title role of Boris, and Emily Magee sings Tosca.

Premieres for the 2008-2009 Season | Official Site

Macbeth Live in HD Met Simulcast

Metmacbeth* Notes *
The Met's simulcast of Macbeth aired today. The production, by Adrian Noble, is new to the Met and opened October 22, 2007. Set after World War II, Mark Thompson's set and costumes are dark, lots of black, grey, olive, khaki. There were many leather jackets and machine guns, Banquo, for example, seemed to be dressed as Rambo for most of Act I. The witches were based on Diane Arbus, each witch wore some sort of hat and smeared lipstick. The purses of the witches were much too loud in Act I, it sounded like coins were dropping on the stage. There were a few supernumeraries used in this group, including three female children. A low point of the opera was the beginning of Act III, when a witches brew was created from little girl vomit, the three had to eat bread and spit it out in an over-sized chalice. I never imagined I would see simulated bulimia onstage at the Met. Sue Lefton's choreography was a little vulgar for the witches, a lot of hip thrusts and such, though when the witches set out chairs for Lady Macbeth to walk on just before she sings in her mad scene worked well.

The cast was impressive, everyone sang at a high level. Baritone Željko Lučić was a fine Macbeth, with much emotional range, going from mournful, to afraid, to defiantly angry with ease. Maria Guleghina was incredible as Lady Macbeth, her voice sounded almost angelic at times, but also could be crystalline and downright frightening. She had good control of her vibrato, for the most part, though she did have a tendency to have an occasional wobbling gasp, especially at the beginning of the brindisi in Act II. Dimitri Pittas (Macduff) sounded a little reedy to me at first, but he was incredible in his Act IV aria, singing well and even shedding tears. He was somewhat difficult to hear over the movements of the chorus and the playing of the orchestra toward the end of the opera. Bass-baritone John Relyea also had a few inaudible moments after the discovery of Duncan's body, but sang his Act II aria "Come dal ciel precipita" quite beautifully. I was most moved by the choral parts at the end of Act II and IV, everyone sounded together and James Levine had the orchestra well in hand.

I do find the May performances of Macbeth tempting, for René Pape will be singing Banquo, and Joseph Calleja sings Macduff. As for the lead roles, I have never heard baritone Carlos Alvarez, but I do avoid Andrea Gruber, whom I find grating. It might be fine, given that Lady Macbeth is supposed to be unpleasant to the ear. 

* Tattling *
The line to enter the Century San Francisco Centre 9 formed before 9:30 am, and Theater 4 was pretty full. Lado Ataneli was listed online as Macbeth today, and his name also appeared on the program I was given at the theater. Apparently he took ill, and Lucic replaced him. The picture at this theater was clearer than at Bay Street, though I did get a headache by the second half. The image did go fuzzy or slowed down at least four times, once in the first chorus, another during "Mi si affaccia un pugnal," once again in "Ah, la paterna mano," and a last time at the last scene. These were minor, more unfortunate were the disturbances in sound, one lasted half a second near the end of Banquo's last aria, the other was during Macbeth's "Pietà, rispetto, amore," in which we were treated to three brief but loud sounds. A shame, considering these are two great moments of the opera. They also did not cut the sound from backstage fast enough for the beginning of Act IV, and we could hear stage directions with the orchestra.

The host today was Peter Gelb himself, the General Director of the Met. He gave a brief interview of James Levine just before the conductor went out to the orchestra pit. The cameras moved around quite a bit, and I was better able to appreciate this by sitting a bit further back this time. It gave me a headache, but for the most part it wasn't too bad. The worst was when Banquo's ghost appeared, it was difficult to make sense of how he appeared or what exactly was going on, because there were so many close-ups. Again, I would have preferred not to see the young supernumeraries regurgitate bread up close or see John Relyea's fillings. I did enjoy Mary Jo Heath's interviewing the two leads at the beginning of intermission. Lučić told us he is a Verdi fan, and Guleghina stated "I am becoming crazy" of her character, not herself.

Fidelio at Bayerische Staatsoper

Fidelio* Notes *
Peter Mussbach's production of Fidelio, which premiered at Bayerische Staatsoper in 1999, is infuriating and yet strangely dull. The set is boring, despite the many scene changes. It was also rather loud, the scrims made all sorts of sounds as they banged against the stage and a certain metal door squealed when opened or closed. There were bizarre choices of when have the curtain down, as in the middle "O welche Lust" and during the Overture to Leonore No. 3, which was placed, as it sometimes is, between Florestan and Leonore's duet and "Heil sei dem Tag!" The choreography was simply stupid, why have Marzelline spin around in joy and then grab the wall or have everyone space themselves neatly like sculptures on a staircase?

The costumes, by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, are likewise unexciting, lots of white and grey, though at some point Jaquino wore a skirt for just one scene. Certainly the most annoying part of the production is Konrad Lindenberg's lighting, or rather, lack thereof. The faces of the singers were perpetually in shadow, which dampened their dramatic force. Ridiculously, the rest of the stage was lit well, so one could see a staircase, or a heater, or a pile of dirt perfectly clearly.

Christof Prick's conducting was not inspired, the horns sounded off in the overture of Act I, and generally it seemed somewhat slow. The chorus sounded rather strange in the last scene, for they were placed in rows beneath the principal singers. Waltraud Meier was at least reasonable visually in the title role, but vocally she was brittle and out of tune. Robert Dean Smith was somewhat reedy as Florestan. The rest of the cast was fine, certainly best was René Pape's Rocco. His voice has good volume but is also nuanced. Martin Gantner sang the small role of Don Fernando, and as usual was not unpleasant.

* Tattling *
The audience distinctly less well-behaved than at Parsifal, though, at least, there was no late seating. There was whispering throughout, a chief offender on the orchestra level was in Row 17 Seat 696. This white-haired fellow also turned some sort of device on during the overture, for his face was bathed in a blue light for a few seconds. A person to his left peered over at him, confused by the visual disturbance. There were also two beeps during Act I, at least one was during an interlude in which Florestan and Leonore's voices are heard, but there is no music.