Zubin Mehta

Zubin Mehta conducts Israel Philharmonic

Mehtazubin * Notes * 
Maestro Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra are currently on tour in the United States. Monday night's confounding performance in San Francisco included a program of Beethoven, Webern, and Schubert. The evening started with a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by "Hatikvah." Then came the Leonore Overture No. 3. The string players sawed their instruments without drama. The brass was both hazy and blaring, and the playing of the off-stage trumpet lacked a sense of salvation. The Webern Passacaglia and Six Pieces for Orchestra were were not particularly subtle, but the "Very slow" fifth piece had some appeal. Schubert's Symphony in C Major, The Great was nearly devoid of beauty. One of the French horns had a nice moment. The woodwinds, on the other hand, were not in tune with each other, and some odd sounds emerged from their section. The encore was a bluntly played overture from Die Fledermaus, which Mehta dedicated to Josef Krips.

* Tattling * 
The audience was extremely enthusiastic, but many talked throughout the performance. A few cell phones were heard. The orchestra received a standing ovation.

The next day I was asked why there were protesters outside of Davies.

Es riß!

Aldengoetterdaemmerung5Last Friday the Bavarian State Opera concluded their first run of Der Ring des Nibelungen as a cycle. This production of Götterdämmerung premiered 28. February 2003, and it was tamer than Die Walküre or Siegfried. Still a lot of drunken staggering, and cigarette smoking.

Musically more compelling than Siegfried, Wagner brings his epic work to a close using elements not heard in the first previous parts, most notably, the use of a chorus. The contrast of this gives the chorus a great deal of power.

The singing was, again, all quite good. Stig Anderson's voice was as sweet as ever, his death scene was excellent as far as singing goes. Baritone Juha Uusitalo, who was Donner in Das Rheingold, was adequate as Gunther here. Bass Matti Salminen was fine as Hagen, his voice isn't exactly full, but the volume is good. Franz-Josef Kapellmann was again wonderful as Alberich, his voice very distinct from Salminen's. Gabriele Schnaut sang well enough as Brünnhilde, but I always felt worried for her, because her voice wobbles and has so much power it threatens to overwhelm her. Nancy Gustafson seemed fine as Gutrune, she was Freia in Das Rheingold. Her voice provokes neither like nor dislike in me, it is a tad cold. Marjana Lipovsek has more emotion in her voice, she did well as Waltraute, and she was Fricka in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. The Rheintöchter were lovely again, mocking but otherworldly. Margarita De Arellano never seemed less shrill, and Ann-Katrin Naidu and Hana Minutillo both have incredible voices. The Norns were less impressive, but not bad.

The production did not make any departure from the usual fare of absurdness, though it was not quite as amusing for the audience. The basic set is a semicircular room. It starts off with a white, reflective floor and a white wall, a blue fluorescent light traces the edge of the wall in a half-circle. There is a chandalier with white fluorescent lights arranged vertically. The Norns are smoking on a couch covered with a sheet. They are dressed in pinstriped suits with vests and high heeled pumps. They are all wearing their hair in dark bobs with bangs. The third Norn is blind and wearing sunglasses, she staggers about. When the Loge music is played the three bring out lighters. Brünnhilde comes out during their music, she sits on the floor, downstage, a bit to the right, dressed in pajamas and a robe, drinking coffee. The floor slides open, mid-stage, a little to the left, and the Norns set out a desk, chair, and typewriter for Brünnhilde. They offer her cigars and coffee. One of the Norns is drinking, she staggers about drunken, naturally. There is a bed stage right, Siegfried is on it, in pajamas also, he and Brünnhilde sing, he changes into trousers, button down shirt, plaid sports coat, and fedora. Quite a change from Siegfried, in which he looks like an adolescent boy in modern times. The scene is changed by tuxedoed men. The Rheintöchter emerge from the floor with a model boat, a golden pirate ship with sails, they sail it about the room, dressed as they were in Das Rheingold.

Act I has some pillars emerging from a door upstage, a painting of a woman in falling out of bed stage right. Getrune huddles in the back, in a fur coat, hugging a teddy bear. Gunther is brought in in his bed. At some point he gets angry at Hagen and throws the bed over, Getrune jumps up and down on the bed. Siegfried emerges from the ground, the horse, Grane is the same dread-locked boy throughout the production, he throws streamers and confetti over Siegfried. Hagen takes him and ties him up by the pillars. Getrune coyly gives Siegfried the love potion, it makes him stagger around for the rest of the opera. The choreography for Getrune is childish, a lot of leg swinging, she's never actually sexy though, even though the character is wearing a little slip beneath her coat, and black stiletto boots. Siegfried and Gunther cut their hands over champagne glasses for the blood brother scene and when Siegfried leaves to fetch Brünnhilde, Hagen drags Grane from the back and throws him into the egress in the floor, where he and Getrune also exit.

Waltreute goes to see her sister Brünnhilde before Siegfried appears. This scene is fairly normal, though the characters never seem to be singing to one another. Waltreute is dressed as a soldier, with a long coat, and Brünnhilde is still in her pajamas.

After Waltreute departs, the fire that protects Brünnhilde is indicated by a line of fire, part of the floor, stage right, opens just a little bit and the fire spits out in a line. It dies down when Siegfried comes in, wearing a hockey mask which is supposed to be the Tarnhelm. His voice is a little muffled by it, which is unfortunate.

Act II starts off down stage, there is a carpet on the floor in red, there is a gray stone wall that hides the up stage. Hagen sits stage left. There is a painting the right of him, the one of a woman in white, falling out of bed, with a gnome sitting on her. This is Hagen's mother, Grimhild. Alberich, his father, is on the right, he has a human sized robotic white lab rat with him. As this scene progresses, Grimhild, played by the dancer Beate Vollack, emerges from behind the painting and dances around, eventually she brings out a knife and kills herself, falling to the ground. When the scene ends the gray wall lifts and Vollack brings the painting down on herself, crawling, she exits to the left. Alberich exits to the right, dragging the rat with him by the tail. It is the same semicircular room, but behind the white wall is a wallpapered one, the same wallpaper as seen in Mime's house and Sieglinde's house. The chandelier now has green lights. In the background is a huge comic book picture of a man who has killed a dragon with his sword, there are people rushing to meet him in the background. One of them comments, in English "How can you kill something that is already dead" and the title is "The Conquerer." Siegfried enters the scene by jumping out behind the picture and tumbling to the floor. Gutrune enters stage right, but first she throws her purse out, then one of her boots. She is neatly coifed and is wearing a blue suit with skirt. The male chorus comes out all wearing tuxedos and viking accouterments, they put on helmets with horns and so forth, and have shields and spears. Tuxedoed men come out with folding tables and orange plastic chairs. They set up a rostrum, and later, a dining hall. The female chorus is dressed in mid-calf length dresses circa 1960-70, holding champagne glasses, posing here and there. The male chorus passed around cans of Löwenbräu. Gutrune reemerges in a wedding gown of satin. Brünnhilde is brought out in her bed, with briefcase and papers, but still in pajamas. Siegfried wears a ruffled tuxedo shirt, and dinner jacket with sequins. When Hagen wishes to convince Brünnhilde to tell him Siegfried's weakness, he gets into bed with her, but not in a lewd way. Gunther hands Brünnhilde the teddy bear, whose head she rips off. Siegfried and Gutrune come back in and Brünnhilde kisses their cheeks, the three join arms with Hagen and Gunther and they make a ring, dancing around.

Act III has the floor back to being white and reflective, the white wall is gone, only the wallpaper remains. There are fish trophies on the wall, a pinball machine center up stage, and a table football game to the left and a pink refrigerator to the left. The chandelier now has gold lights. The Rheintöchter emerge from the floor. They are dressed as housewives, kerchiefs around the heads, they throw plastic fish out of their clothes. Their hair is now bobbed and black with bangs, while before one was redheaded, another dark, the last blond. They change on stage, two of the maidens have their sequined dresses on underneath, another is only wearing a swim suit, but she puts on her dress as well. Siegfried comes looking for a bear and he is wearing a hunting vest over his regular clothes. They disappear for a bit and reemerge, one from the left, another from the right, and the another from the center, and they are wearing the pinstriped suits now, like the Norns.

Siegfried finds the hunting party, which consists of the male chorus, Gunther, and Hagen. The chorus is dressed in lederhosen for the most part. They bring in dead animals, pose with them, have their picture taken. Siegfried is killed with spear, Hagen dumps him into the refrigerator where he sings as he dies. Hagen kills Gunther with a gun, the noise of it going off was quite unpleasant. Brünnhilde kills herself by slashing her wrists, and then sitting just left of center down stage, in the lotus position. Her horse comes out when she calls him, he sits to the left. Hagen shoots himself with the gun, instead of drowning in the Rhein. The wallpaper comes down, and a platform comes down, it has several human sized white lab rats on it, and in the back, the theater from Das Rheingold reappears, Walhalla on the chairs, burning.

Other notes, petty:
The young couple in front of me, as I've mentioned, talked a lot during Das Rheingold, in which the male half of the couple left in the beginning of the fourth scene, and to my great amusement, was not allowed back in. The female brought another girl friend for Die Walküre and they were silent. But during Siegfried, the male was back, and they talked more than ever. During Götterdammerung, they barely had a whisper between them, I have no idea why. In Act III, the boy fell asleep for at least thirty minutes, he slept though extremely loud music. The older couple to their left was also noisy, mostly because they couldn't stop laughing at everything.

Hoiho! Hoiho!

Aldensiegfried3Yesterday the Bavarian State Opera continued the Ring Cycle with Siegfried. David Alden premiered his production last November, and it was along the same lines as Die Walküre, so at least there was some continuity between the two. The only threads that tie Das Rheingold to the two others so far are the proscenia that we are meant to be looking at from back stage and the use of drunken staggering around as a choreographic device.

I was less impressed with the music of Siegfried than of the previous two parts, though I still found it to be both lovely and moving. Wagner's deft use of percussion was absolutely apparent throughout. Unfortunately, the production was not respectful, they had Siegfried play some of the percussion, using a piece of metal on a decrepit automobile. This could have been fine, one supposes, if the singer in question didn't look utterly tentative in his attempts. He wasn't the best percussionist, which isn't surprising, since he's a tenor, after all. Secondly, there was a horn part of Act II Scene II, that sounded like it was being played on a toy, horribly out of tune and out of place. Perhaps this is in the score, but from what I can tell in the instrumentation, it was supposed to be either a French or English horn.

Tenor Stig Andersen sang the title part fairly well, his voice is very pretty, but, as is the tendency with tenors, he is a bit quiet, especially compared to John Tomlinson or Gabriele Schnaut. The other tenor, Helmut Pampuch as Mime, was likewise quiet, but less pretty, which was perfect because they sang together a great deal and this made them very clearly distinct.

John Tomlinson (Wotan disguised as a wanderer) and Franz-Josef Kapellmann (Alberich) were the most outstanding, both having powerful, rich voices. Bass Kurt Rydl made little impression as Fafner, his voice came out of a speaker for part of his performance, and the rest of it was sung from a hospital bed. The contralto Anna Larsson was more impressive than in Das Rheingold, less strained. Soprano Gabriele Schnaut's performance as Brünnhilde was more impassioned than in Die Walküre. Her voice has power and volume, but her control is not secure. It is also not a sweet sort of voice at all. Incidentally, she switched from singing mezzo-soprano parts to singing dramatic soprano parts in 1985. Margarita De Arellano sang the part of Waldvogel, and her voice, at times, was celestial. Other times she can be quite shrill.

Act I starts with Mime forging a sword, but this production has him sleeping on the linoleum of a dirty kitchen stage left, moving about to the overture in his sleep. On the wall is a calendar with days crossed off in red. Above him is a loft, decorated to look like an adolescent boy's room, complete with video game posters and graffiti. Stage right is a lowered area, the living room with couch and television.

The bear that Siegfried brings to scare Mime is in a cabinet in the kitchen, the door slides up to reveal him at the appropriate time. He looks like something out of a cartoon, made of fiberglass perhaps. Every time someone uses the cabinet to go up the stairs to the loft, the bear is still there.

Mime puts on pink pumps, a pink apron with stuffed chest, and a pink cardigan with pink fur or feather trim. He vacuums and cooks a cat in the oven, which he burns, naturally.

During this scene, many inexplicable things happen, there is a screen lowered that has a pair of feet in releve painted in gray, the television explodes, Siegfried writes in chalk on the walls spelling "Nothung" and "Sieglinde" incorrectly. Finally, Siegfried goes off on a bicycle, commanding Mime to reforge Nothung. The wanderer comes in through the floor. When Mime questions him, the wanderer puts on a cone-shaped hat with a question mark on it, and sits in a chair center stage. Projected above him is the number one, which turns into a question mark, and then an explanation point when he answers. This continues, one, two, three, and then again when Mime has to answer questions posed him.

Siegfried returns, he reforges the sword in the garage revealed up stage near the center. The forging occurs in the engine of a decrepit car. At some point, a toilet appears stage right, which Siegfried uses to urinate in and to cool off Nothung. The Münchners thought this was hilariously funny, especially since Nothung, at this point, was just a few scrapes of awkwardly welded metal pieces, clearly not a sword at all. It is during this part that Siegfried is made to do some of the percussion, and the rhythm was a bit off.

With Nothung remade, Mime puts on a trench coat and spiked helmet over his pink ensemble and they go off to find Fafner.

Act II starts down stage, a metal wall screens the up stage. There is the calendar again, but ten times as big. There are two rows of orange plastic chairs facing the audience. Alberich crosses off the days with huge red marks. The wanderer comes in stage left, walking on the back row of chairs. Alberich pulls down a lamp and does various thing stage right that I could not see. On the calendar is a painting of a lion with prey in his mouth, this painting lifts up to show a screen, on which Fafner is revealed in black and white footage of an obese man in his underwear, counting money. His voice comes out of a speaker which is above, to the left. The speaker is illuminated as he sings.

The painting is lowered, but then lifted again to reveal a room, with cut out versions of the lion and prey, and of the various trees and grasses in the painting. From here Mime and Siegfried sing, until they climb done a ladder, the screen lifts, the chairs go left and there are a bunch of eggs, in various sizes. One of the eggs has a yellow tutu, female legs, and red stilettos. She starts on the ground but is soon dancing all over the place. Then there was an egg with gigantic feet that walked all around. Then an egg was suspended from above, two doors on either side of the egg swung open, and two huge wings popped out and flapped repeatedly. Then a person in a suit with dentures for a head came out with another egg, from which a bird with an axe is born. A nurse wanders in, and a surgeon. Then one huge egg just left from center cracks open, something in it inflates, and it is the head of an elderly lady.

The nurse brings in a hospital bed with Fafner in it, some blood hanging in a bag to his left. Siegfried does not attack him with Nothung at all, he simply dies of a heart attack, and Siegfried drinks blood out of the bag, the motivation for this being rather unclear. The Waldvogel comes out of one of the eggs, and she is dressed in a short pink sequined dress, black feathers at the neckline, black feathers in her hair, black stiletto heels. Siegfried goes into a man hole, the ersatz cave. The surgeon ends up being Alberich, the nurse is Mime. They dump Fafner out of the hospital bed and sit on it, as they sing. Siegfried emerges from the hole wearing a gold motorcycle jacket with fringe and rhinestones, alone with the ring and the Tarnhelm. Mime pours champagne, which the Waldvogel drinks two glasses of, she falls over drunk. Margarita De Arellano did this extremely well. Siegfried actually does kill Mime with Nothung this time, he gets down stage and the metal screen comes down. It is obvious that the calendar painting will lift and the Waldvogel will beckon Siegfried back into the painting. This is exactly what happens, though Wotan does appear, trying to prop up the drunken Waldvogel, which is not appreciated by her at all.

Act III starts in a room with a black floor slanted down to the left, black curtains all around. The couch appears from under the curtains, Wotan sings to wake Erda, and she appears from behind the couch, dressed in a short black slip and a leopard print jacket. They put Anna Larsson in very low heels, even without them she was taller than anyone else, a whole head taller than Zubin Mehta when they came out to bow at the end. She sits on the couch and smokes when she is not singing.

After she leaves, the Waldvogel comes out throw the curtains, sits on the couch, but is scared away by Wotan. Siegfried appears after her, he puts up a no smoking sign, pulls out a strip of white material from behind the curtain and makes a line perpendicular to the audience. His jacket starts flashing, the rhinestones are actually Christmas lights. A traffic signal lowers, flashing red, yellow, and green. Siegfried destroys Wotan's staff, and the curtains open to reveal a highway, the white strip extends to the back and is the center divider. There is a convertible crashed into the ground on the left side. The man on fire is there, he walks around as he did in Die Walküre. Neither Brünnhilde nor Siegfried are on stage. Siegfried enters from the back, climbing up onto the highway. He sings to no one at all. When he is supposed to be taking off her shield and helm, neither are there. Though Grane, the horse, has appeared in the background, and he lies down by the car.

Finally Brünnhilde appears down stage right, when she has to sing. She is in a suit and heels, her trench coat in hand. Siegfried and Brünnhilde never seem to be at the same part of the stage, while Siegfried sings Brünnhilde gets into the car and out of it, smokes with her horse, who is a man with a huge mane and bridle, the same one who pushed around her desk in Die Walküre, though he lacks his wings.

Near the very end, Brünnhilde takes off her clothes as she sings, her shoes first, then coat, trousers, vest, and shirt. Thankfully, she is wearing a long black shift. At the end, she and Siegfried run together up stage and jump off holding hands.

There was no booing this time, presumably because it was not a premiere. The applause was hesitant until the singers would come out, and then it was quite enthused. The audience particularly adores Zubin Mehta.

Other notes, not important, but amusing:
The man standing next to me found it impossible to stay still. He repeatedly turned towards me and stared, made flourishes with his hand to the music, and occasionally would simply go stand in the aisle, which would be fine, except that a lady was standing just at the aisle, he was not at the end. His date found a seat in front of this lady, and occasionally would stand up if she could not see exactly what was going on. She was well over 185 centimeters tall, and she did not have the good sense to hold on to her seat so it didn't make a horrible sound as it snapped up. Last week she wore a pink t-shirt with the words "I am so bourgeois" in English. Very true. The people just in front of me talked repeatedly, even though I hushed them each time I found them too loud, as I did for Das Rheingold as well.

Hojotoho! Heiahaha!

Aldenwalkuere1David Alden's new production of Die Walküre premiered yesterday afternoon at the Bavarian State Opera. Musically, the performance was excellent, Zubin Mehta conducted well, as usual, and the singing was good. Tenor Peter Seiffert and soprano Waltraud Meier were outstanding as the Wälsungen, so the first act was stunning. Bass-baritone John Tomlinson was once again impressive as Wotan, his voice is powerful, warm, and beautiful. Significantly less affecting was soprano Gabriele Schnaut as Brünnhilde, she seemed to have difficulty singing while doing the choreography. Her voice, though sufficiently loud, had a little catch to it, and at times it sounded like it could shatter at any moment.

The production seemed to have a few major themes, these being: throwing objects or humans whenever possible, walls with strange magnetic properties that attract human bodies, inappropriate response to stimuli, domestic violence, and war. Act I starts us off in a room down stage, the floor is linoleum tile, the walls are flowered wallpaper, there is a hot pink refrigerator in the stage left corner, the rest of the furniture includes vinyl covered metal chairs and a kitchen table. Sieglinde, dressed as a house wife circa 1940, is sitting on a chair in the center. Siegmund enters from the left, wearing a black leather trench-coat. Sieglinde brings him water and mead from the lovely pink fridge, which of course, makes the audience titter. Hunding comes in and turns on the lights, including a kitschy illuminated depiction of a watery paradise. The act more or less precedes in this manner, the outside is revealed by the wall itself crumbling so that there is a human sized hole in it. The Wälsungen run off together, the wall gives way and swings open, Siegmund picks Sieglinde up and pushes her against the wall as they precede to maniacally dry hump each other. Lovely. This is followed by a 50 minute intermission as they set up for the next act.

Act II uses the same walls stripped of their wallpaper. Brünnhilde is dressed as Der Blaue Engel era Dietrich, and has a whip. She is standing at the top of the wall, as a bunch of soldier corpses move synchronically to her whip cracking. To her left is an oversized model of a camouflage-painted war plane. Eventually she comes down to earth where Wotan is, and this is when it starts to get actually bad. Brünnhilde does absurd movements with her top hat as a prop to the music. It is as if she has either Tourette's syndrome or Huntington's Disease, although the movements are timed to the music, they do not make any sense with them. Utter mockery. Her horse is a metal desk which is pushed about by a dark winged figure. Fricka is a well-dressed lady with a grey fox over one shoulder. She, of course, hurls it at the ground, along with her purse, as she tries to convince Wotan to let her punish Siegmund. There is wrestling and rolling on the ground between the two. When the scene finally changes Siegmund and Sieglinde gingerly move across something meant to look like a dilapidated several-story apartment complex, complete with an abandoned blue tiled bathroom and sorry-looking toilet. Sieglinde carefully collapses against the wall, again, and the scenery moves all about. Brünnhilde appears and heroes wearing gas masks come out bringing black leather armchairs which they sit in as they read newspapers. At some point they lean over the chairs and make suggestive hip thrusts for no apparent reason. Hunding, Wotan, and Fricka appear, Siegmund is killed, Brünnhilde defiantly strips herself of coat, hat, and gloves and sits in a chair facing her father. Hunding is killed, Wotan threatens Brünnhilde from his armchair across from her, the act ends, there is a significant amount of booing from the audience. I was shocked, since the audience is usually extremely excited about applauding. But when the singers came out, they were applauded as usual. This is followed by an hour long intermission as they set up for the final act. During the intermission, I gather that the audience did not mind first act's staging, but the second act was too much.

Act III has a huge fan suspended from above, which rotates throughout the rest of the performance. There are the walls again, some of the Walküren are up on top of the wall, some are below in an office area with many metal desks. They are dressed as soldiers, in gray wool with little gray hats. They have air traffic controller torches and at some point they use them to tell the audience, or perhaps Wagner, to fuck off. Then they take out white vinyl aprons with red crosses emblazoned on them and nurse hats, they change into red pumps. For the rest of the act they will dance about in a flippant and inappropriate manner. The war plane from Act II flies down to earth, and Wotan appears, filled with wrath. Brünnhilde is punished, and Wotan conjures up fire, which appears in the guise of a man in a fire proof suit, set afire. The dark winged figure rolls Brünnhilde away on a metal desk. The music ends and it is completely silent for a whole 30 seconds before a chorus of booing commences. The singers come out, and there is applause, the conductor comes out, the whole orchestra appears on stage, and the applause is thunderous. As soon as David Alden and his ilk come out, there is loud booing, countered with some polite applause and a group of 2 or 3 folks screaming "Bravo" over and over. The people on stage just continue bowing, flowers are brought out for the female singers.

The audience was more well-behaved than usual, there was less chatter. But, naturally, a cell-phone rang, though quite far from me.

Wallala weiala weia!

Bsorheingold4My friends, I have made a disturbing discovery of late. After some years of listening to operas, I finally went to hear a Wagner opera, Das Rheingold, last Wednesday. The music was sublime. In general, I do not like music past Beethoven, and my favorite opera composer is undoubtedly Mozart. So I was surprised I found Das Rheingold engaging. The lack of recitative was nice, the lack of chorus was a bit odd. I enjoy Wagner's use of percussion.

Zubin Mehta conducted admirably, the orchestra and singers seemed more synchronized than usual at any rate. The singing was consistent, John Tomlinson was especially good Wotan and Franz-Josef Kapellmann as Alberich also had a strong voice. The Rhine maidens (Margarita De Arellano, Ann-Katrin Naidu, and Hana Minutillo) were a bit shrill taken apart, but sounded just lovely together.

The production was by the late Herbert Wernicke, and he was in charge of the staging and costumes as well. The stage was a theatre, the seats raked, boxes in the back, Corinthian columns stage left to suggest the outside architecture of the building. The stage looks more or less the same throughout the four scenes, which made the transitions exceedingly smooth, and there was no intermission. The main part of the stage, where most of the singing happened, was a platform of 18 feet just downstage.

The Rhine was suggested by an aquarium, complete with three goldfish, in the opening scene. Alberich would try to catch the fish when actually trying to catch the Rhine maidens, who staggered about around him in high heels and sequined evening gowns. When he steals the Rhine gold, he actually puts his left foot in the aquarium. There is an audience on stage, people in evening dress, and Erda is in the box to the left, with a large book. Erda stays there throughout, until she sings in Scene IV. The costumes throughout the production is more or less contemporary, only Erda has a costume that is somewhat theatrical, a black satin dress with a full skirt and an elaborate glittery head dress.

Scene II was the only one that took any time at all to set up, because they had to put the Greco-Roman styled model of Valhalla on to the seats near the back. The audience is gone, except for Erda. I was very confused that Valhalla involved a peristyle. But I realized later that Valhalla was actually a model of the Nationaltheater, where the opera itself took place. The furniture of the Gods exactly matched the decor of the opera house as well, white painted wood with pink velvet.

Scene III used a screen on which they projected black and white footage of mines, and later a dragon and a toad. Also, a ladder was placed in the center from which Wotan and Loge make their descent into Nibelheim. The audience has returned, and while Mime talks to the Gods, Alberich steals jewelry from the audience members.

Scene IV is just like Scene II, with the audience gone again. As the Gods go to Valhalla, various moving men take the furnishings up, including paintings of opera singers and busts of composers. The screen comes back down again and footage of opera goers entering the Nationaltheater is played. The symbolism is quite obvious.

Figlia d'Eva

BsotrovatoreThe Bavarian State Opera performance of Il Trovatore yesterday night was perhaps the most traditional production I have seen there to date. Zubin Mehta conducted quite well. Luca Ronconi's staging was conservative, it appears to be the only opera she has staged here. My only complaint was the gratuitous use of a scrim to separate Manrico from Leonora in Act III Scene 2, when they are supposedly in a room of the Castellor castle, which is under siege. This tired device has no purpose, there is no reason to have the characters in different spaces and have them sing touching hands against the scrim. The rest of the choreography was natural, no unnecessary collapses, no singing in strange positions, no undressing. The capture of Azucena in Act III, Scene 1 was especially passionate and chilling.

Margherita Palli's sets involved a series of large square pillars. The sets, one imagines, were a challenge, since there are 8 scenes. Instead of using some sort of device or ploy to move the sets around during the action, the scrim or the curtain was simply brought down after each scene. It would take several minutes for the set to change, and they brought the lights up in the hall each time. I have mixed feelings on this point, the long set changes broke the flow, but I appreciate the simplicity of this solution to set change. Gabriella Pescucci's costumes were not elaborate as far as the Spaniards were concerned, though the gypsies had colorful accouterments, which had more of a Middle-Eastern feel than what one typically associates with the Roma.

All together, the singing was of good quality. Alexandru Agache made a fine Conte di Luna, the baritone has a strong voice, and his singing in Act II Scene 2 with Maurizio Muraro (Ferrando) and the chorus of nuns was especially sublime. Mezzo-soprano Elisbetta Fiorillo had a somewhat gritty voice suited for Azucena, though at points she sang with celestial sweetness. Her struggle in Act III Scene 1 was, as I mentioned earlier, exceptionally good and not in the least artificial.

The lead soprano, Fiorenza Cedolins (Leonora), sang admirably, though with a great deal of vibrato, which seemed to overwhelm her at times. Tenor Dennis O'Neill was excellent as Manrico, the troubadour himself. Clear and sweet, his voice contrasted with Fiorillo's nicely.

The audience seemed to like I Puritani more than Il Trovatore, but preferred the latter to Così fan Tutte. Odd, considering the cast for Così was the most consistent, and in my estimation, the one for Puritani was the least, as Gruberova had far and away the best voice. All of these operas are short, in Italian, have complicated plots, and familiar music, though the music to Il Trovatore is likely the best known by laypersons.

Sì, piango, ma t'ammiro.

BsodoncarloIf all the operas at the Bayerische Staatsoper were as good as their current production of Don Carlo, I would never leave the Nationaltheater. It wasn't perfect, but all the singers were good, and Zubin Mehta is a fine conductor.

They chose to do their own version of Verdi's Don Carlo, something in-between the full five act version, and the later four act version. Five acts, and about 3 hours and 40 minutes of music, plus a 40 minute intermission.

The staging was clever, of course, the person in charge was Jürgen Rose with the help of Franziska Severin. They used a large room with many doors that could be moved back and forth quietly. The doors were a little loud though, when they closed. The main feature of the room was a huge crucifix on the left, not flush against the wall, but leaning on it at an angle so that Christ is at three-quarters. In the middle of the floor was a stairway into it, that could be covered.

I found their scrim with a huge cross on it a bit overbearing, especially when they projected a the image of a very poorly executed drawing portraying one of Murillo's St. Francis paintings, which happened every once in a while when the action moved to the front of the stage, and they hid the room so they could rearrange things.

The furniture of the set was also somewhat obnoxious. A flock of IKEA metal chairs were used for certain scenes, at least a few were tossed about.

The choreography was simple, not fantastic. Don Carlo threw himself to the ground several times, only once did he seem like a dying fish, so I would say that Sergej Larin did an adequate job at the choreography he was given. The first scene of the opera has Elisabetta di Valois walking in the woods of Fontainebleu very slowly and stiffly, and this often looked awkward. Also the scene when Princess Eboli sings Nei giardin del bello, Act II Scene 2 in this version (Act I Scene 2 in the final version of 1867), the ladies of the court dance about in Flamenco style with shawls and fans. They did not do this well, and it seemed reductive, and orientalist, even.

I did enjoy the procession in Act III Scene 2, they had people dressed as Jesus and Mary in various scenes of the Passion. The costumes in general were quite beautiful, like something out of Velázquez, or more accurately, Coello. I'm also partial to certain flashiness, this scene also had the pyres that are lit at the end, and an actual fire was set. The choreography did hit a low point at the beginning of this scene when one of the chorus members lost her sandal. The manner in which it was retrieved was not discreet enough.

Our friend Paata Burchuladze, Osmin in Entführung, was much better suited in the part of the Grand Inquisitor, as the range needed was not as great.

I was also glad to hear Ayk Martiorossien as the friar, as it is always nice to see an Armenian on stage, especially one heard before in Arshak II as Nerses. His voice is wonderful, dark and haunting.

Incidentally, Tebaldo was sung by a woman from Xinjiang (the Uighur autonomous region, also known as East Turkestan). Dilbèr's part was small, but she seemed adequate.

Soprano Miriam Gauci was good as Elisabetta, her voice is not distinct. On the other hand, Luciana D'Intino, mezzosoprano who sang Princess Eboli, was the evening's favorite. Her voice started off occasionally nasal, but otherwise very beautiful and full.

Baritone Paolo Gavanelli was convincing as Rodrigo, his death scene was moving, and his duet with Larin at the end of Act I Scene 1 was one of the best performances of the evening. Another best was the aria at the beginning of Act IV sung by Filippo II (bass Matti Salminen).

My reason for seeing this performance at all was Sergej Larin, since I had heard him as Samson at San Francisco during the 2001-2002 season. His tenor voice struck me as the same, impassioned, slightly raveled, yet there is something light about it.

Verdi isn't Mozart, but he's not so bad. I liked this music more than his Otello, but it might have to do with the conducting, which was somewhat sluggish in Otello, I was told. I wouldn't know. Also, it is perhaps easier to swallow the idea of a Schiller play that I don't know as a libretto, than a Shakespeare one I do know as one.