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Una donna a quindici anni

BsocosiIt was asserted to me that Hemingway's novel Across the River and Into the Trees was less bad than Da Ponte's libretto to Così fan Tutte. I find it a very bizarre comparison, but find myself unable to judge any opera libretti against actual literature. Voltaire put this best: Anything too stupid to be spoken is sung.

In the last week, I have seen the Bavarian State Opera's production of Così fan Tutte twice, on the 16th and the 19th. I'm terribly fond of Mozart's music, and Così is quite charming. Peter Schneider conducted admirably, as is expected of him, I've heard him conduct Mozart before at the SF Opera.

Dieter Dorn's set was again a bit given to clean lines, this time reminiscent of Bauhaus furniture. The set consisted of a raised platform covered with a white sheet downstage with six white walls, three on each side of the stage. Various other walls were added for other scenes, and the furnishings were of varnished light wood and not Bauhaus at all. Maybe the metal IKEA chairs from Don Carlo might have been a better match. Upstage was a lowered area with glass doors in the center and an olive tree stage left. There was a curtain towards the downstage area, painted with the same scene, so when they changed the sets they could simply draw the curtain. With eight scene changes but only two acts, this was an effective way of making the transitions smooth.

Jürgen Rose's staging was not as nice as his work in Don Carlo. It seemed too artificial at times, having people climb unseen ladders behind the side walls and sing from there or having Dorabella put a chair on a table and climb up on this as she is singing the aria Smanie implacabili che m'agitate. Most irksome was the choreography in Act I Scene 2, when the four principal singers do a pinwheel as Guglielmo and Ferrando take their leave of Fiordiligi and Dorabella and directly after this the Chorus walks on stage singing Bella vita militar falling down just after they sing "Io sparar di schioppi e bombe" (the firing of muskets and bombs). Interestingly, it wasn't the case that the choreography was too difficult for the singers, the six main characters were played by artists who were very good with movement.

Rose's costumes, however, were better. I was dubious about Fiordiligi and Dorabella being in midriff baring undershirts and petticoats until the last scene in Act I, since it seems highly unlikely they would receive Don Alfonso dressed this way. But for the most part, the costumes were fine. Guglielmo and Ferrando in their "Albanian" costumes were very funny, an orientalist nightmare of Middle Eastern and East Asian styles combined that was only acceptable because they are playing Italians playing at being Albanians. The "Albanian" chorus was dressed as if they had raided their linen closets, wearing tablecloths and sheets.

As for the singers themselves, the cast was quite consistent. The weakest, perhaps, was the tenor Jeremy Ovenden as Ferrando. His voice was just a touch quiet, but I could not detect this from the center of second tier, it was only when I was a bit on the left of the third tier that he seemed quiet. Or it could be that he was having a bad day on Wednesday, it is hard to tell.

Thomas Allen was better as Don Alfonso than Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, his bass is better than his baritone, as far as vocal projection is concerned. Baritone Martin Gantner was a charming Guglielmo, his voice was well suited to the part.

Of the three sopranos, Julie Kaufmann had the warmest and most powerful voice. Her part, Despina, was the easiest vocally though. Sophie Koch played the fickle Dorabella very well, her soprano is dark, and I'm not surprised that she also sings Cherubino in Le Nozze. Amanda Roocroft was an adequate Fiordiligi, her voice is cold but not shrill. Koch and Roocroft both had very pretty voices, and were also quite pretty to look at, perhaps the prettiest two sopranos I've seen in an opera for awhile.

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.

O Rendetemi La Speme

Bsopuritani Last night's performance of Bellini's I Puritani at the Bavarian State Opera was quite good. Friedrich Haider conducted competently, though the orchestra was, on occasion, rather louder than some of the singers. Also, sometimes the timing appeared off between singer and orchestra. But the blame more likely lies with the singers than the conductor.

Jonathan Miller's staging was pretty good, simple and following the music. The choreography was natural and worked well on non-dancer bodies. Isabella Bywater's sets were likewise plain, stoney tiles as a floor and lighter grey walls that could be moved up and down to suggest a square or a hall or courtyard. It was completely silent, which was excellent. The only thing amiss was a pulpit in the third scene of Act I, put stage left, near a down stage door. It seemed to have no purpose except to suggest the action was inside, not outside, and only once did Riccardo briefly climb its steps. Clare Mitchell's costumes were lovely, very much like Van Dyck paintings come to life. The colors were overwhelmingly blue, purple, and black offset by lace. The hairstyles were also done well.

The only real disappointment as far as the singing was perhaps Liliana Mattei as Enrichetta, widow of Charles I. Her dark soprano was not distinct and rather quiet. Bass Alastair Miles was fairly good as Giorgio, though his lower range did not project so well. Baritone Albert Schagidullin played scorned lover Riccardo well, though he projected even less well than Miles.

José Bros sang the tenor part of Arturo Talbot with passion, his high range is clear and very pretty, but his low range is gritty.

Edita Gruberova was a delight to hear as Elvira. Though her timing and intonation are perhaps imperfect, her flexible voice is lucid and bright.

All together a pleasant evening. Bellini's music is all melody and lyricism, and the opera is brief, a bare 2.5 hours. The 30 minute intermission after Act I seemed unnecessary. The Münchners do clap excessively I believe. They like to make noise, they stamp and scream, even after whispering fiendishly during recitative or orchestral bits. One listens with ears not mouth, and I simply don't understand what they have to say to each other that's so pressing.

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.