Robert Lepage

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.

Bluebeard and Erwartung at Seattle Opera

Bluebeard * Notes *
A double-bill of Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung opened at Seattle Opera this evening. The two works were originally directed by Robert Lepage for the Canadian Opera Company, but were directed by François Racine in Seattle. The Bartók was stunning, though the orchestra was not always perfect under Evan Rogister, the music is compelling and the production does not get in the way. Michael Levine's set and costumes were understated, the clean lines were pleasing but offered surprises. Only the interaction at the end between the three other wives and Judith seemed a bit too obvious. The media effects, designed by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy, were striking without being overwhelming.

As for singing, Malgorzata Walewska (Judith) had incredible moments, her voice has warmth, but it is also somewhat wobbly. There were points in which she was simply shrieking. John Relyea seemed a bit blunt at first as Bluebeard, though his voice is lovely. He was impressively mournful after the opening of the sixth door, as he sings about tears.

Erwartung involved more acrobatics. The piece seemed interminable, though it was a mere 30 minutes long, even with all of the visual effects and overt illustrations of narrative. Susan Marie Pierson sang well, she had good control and was never shrill.

* Tattling *
The hall was not full, and though there was a little talking during the music, it was very minimal. Afterward, a person asked us if these were the worst operas we had seen, and we responded in the negative. Apparently he had not enjoyed himself at all, and has attended at least a hundred opera performances.

La Damnation de Faust Live in HD Met Simulcast

Damnationfaust   * Notes *
Director Robert Lepage's production La Damnation de Faust was shown as a simulcast over the weekend. His Met debut certainly had the marks of a production from that company. Carl Fillion's set was not entirely unlike the one for Doctor Atomic from a few weeks ago, both being vertical and grid-like. Both also made use of projections, though the ones here were more elaborate, reactions to the performers themselves.

Lepage did serve up one arresting image after another, and one must say that choreographers Johanne Madore and Alain Gauthier did especially fine work. However, at times it did seem like overkill for a piece that is most often performed unstaged. Going wild with video projections, dancing, and acrobatics was dizzying, though it translated well cinematically. The cameras moved quite a bit, but it seems that Barbara Willis Sweete is being less creative with her work, there were no moving or doubled images as in Tristan. It is, however, difficult to judge the overall impact of a production when there are so many closeups.

The musical values were exceedingly high, as usual, and conductor James Levine was impressive. Bass-baritone John Relyea had suitable eyebrow makeup for Méphistophélès, and he sang with great vigor. Marcello Giordani had not a trace of warmth in his voice, but sang perfectly well. Susan Graham was, however, sublime as Marguerite. Her "Autrefois un roi de Thulé" was lovely.

* Tattling * 
Both sound and picture briefly stopped twice at the beginning of "D'amour l'ardente flamme" at the beginning of Part IV. The audience whispered a bit during the music, and there was much coughing. The cinemacast was supposedly sold-out in San Francisco, though there were quite a few seats that were empty in the first few rows.

Opening of The Rake's Progress

Laura Aikin and William Burden, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress opened yesterday in a co-production with
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Opéra de Lyon, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and Teatro Real Madrid. The opera was taken from the 16th century into the 1950s, so taken from when Hogarth's paintings are set to when the opera was premiered. The effect makes Stravinsky's self-consciously Baroque/Classical style, complete with harpsichord, somewhat nonsensical. The English countryside is reimagined as Texas, Nick Shadow takes Tom Rakewell to London to become a movie star. Carl Fillion's sets are exceedingly charming, it seems that every scene had something terribly clever in it as far as staging. Especially amusing were the bed that Tom and Mother Goose dally in, the inflatable movie trailer, the dollhouse meant to represent the Trulove home, Anne's flyaway scarf as she makes her way to London, and the swimming pool of the Rakewell home. Boris Firquet's video design was excellently incorporated, the scene changes that used this were seamless, and the only time the rather horizontal screen really bothered me was the movie marquee scene (Act II Scene 2), because naturally the eyes go up to see the rest of the building, and it is just blank black space. The lighting design, by Etienne Boucher, was blinding as Nick Shadow filmed Tom in Act I Scene 2, but was otherwise good.

Runnicles and the orchestra were not in their best form, they overwhelmed the singers, they were not always together, and the horns sounded rough. Both William Burden (Tom Rakewell) and Laura Aikin (Anne Trulove) sounded clear and bright. Burden sang quite plaintively, and Aikin sounded perfectly angelic and bell-like. James Morris was a placid Nick Shadow, his lower notes were slightly gravelly, though his higher range was pretty. Denyce Graves played Baba the Turk to a tee, her powerful voice has a wonderful warmth and was appropriately gruff in this role. In the smaller roles, tenor Steven Cole stood out as Sellem, his acting in the auction scene was hilarious, and though he was slightly quiet when he moved upstage, his voice is pleasing. Besides Ms. Graves and Mr. Cole, the acting of the principals was rather subdued. It was difficult to see how Tom's actions were motivated, Morris was particularly ambiguous, in playing the Devil himself, though unctuous, he did seem rather cold and bored.

* Tattling *
Because this opera opened the day after Thanksgiving and my family is not in the Bay Area, I had to convince a friend to get a ticket for me in the morning. Someone managed to sneak past her into the building and I got the following text message at 10:22 am: I had to beat a queue-cutting coot to get your #1 ticket. I hope you're happy!

Standing room was only moderately full, and the rest of audience was somewhat sparse. Everyone was pretty quiet, I heard no watch alarms on the hour. Someone tore paper at one point in Act I, but this was only for a few seconds. The sign asking people exit from the side doors during the performance was knocked over twice. There was much applause for the set, and this obscured the music more than once.

I was given a lovely crocheted cupcake in standing room, for my efforts in depicting pastry. Certainly it was one of the nicest presents I have received at the opera.