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February 2003
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Im Frühling

Due to a scheduling mishap, La Cenerentola and Angelika Kirchschlager's recital of Lieder von Franz Schubert on one evening. The opera started at 5pm and ended at 8:15pm, the recital began at 8pm but was only 5 minutes away by taxi. Nonetheless, the first half of the Lieder were missed. Straining to listen in the hallway, but it was not quiet enough.

The second viewing of La Cenerentola only confirmed my great love for this particular production. Due credit must be given Grischa Asagaroff, who directed, since Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, who headed up the staging, set, and costumes, died in 1988. The singing of all the principals again was quite good, the choreography was perfect, and this time Martin Gantner was well enough to run. I feel it is also only fair to say the title role is quite difficult, for coloratura contralto, and that Antonacci did an admirable job.

On the program for mezzo-soprano Kirchschlager were the following Schubertlieder:
An Sylvia
Im Frühling
Das Rosenband
Du bist die Ruh
Bei Dir
Der Tod und das Mädchen
13. Psalm
Die junge Nonne
Die Allmacht
Ellens Gesänge Nr. 1- 3
Das Heimweh
Heimliches Lieben
Die Liebende schreibt

Kirchschlager's voice is clear and warm, without the slightest darkness whatsoever. She has very good control and precise enunciation.


CenerentolaThis evening's performance of Rossini's La Cenerentola at the Bayerische Staatsoper seemed to be fraught with various issues. Petia Petrova, the mezzo set to sing the title role, was indisposed, and Anna Caterina Antonacci sang in her stead. Baritone Martin Gantner had hurt his foot recently, and was unable to run about as the choreography dictated.

Nonetheless, the performance came off rather well. Myron Romanul conducted the reduced orchestra well enough. The evil stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, were both acted very well by sopranos Julia Rempe and Helena Jungwirth. Jungwirth's voice is even more quiet and shrill than Rempe's, but the role is small. Likewise, Bruno Pratico was a hilarious Don Magnifico, but his voice did not have much volume. The audience, of course, absolutely adored him. Martin Gantner seemed just fine as Dandini, I would have never guessed he was hurt, except for the announcement. His voice sounded better in Così as Guglielmo, but it is probably because of the part not the singing. Juan José Lopera had a sweet tenor good for the part of Don Ramiro, but he was a touch low on volume. Anna Caterina Antonacci's voice certainly was pretty compared to the sopranos, but she lacks control which lead to a few intonation problems. Her voice certainly was not one that felt effortless and free. The bass John Relyea as Alidoro was most impressive, his voice was both warm and clear, with excellent volume.

The set was charming, involving trompe l'oeil on curtains or panel in white and black. The effect was slightly Edward Gorey. There were essentially two sets, the Don Magifico household and the palace. Set changes happened behind various curtains and were more or less flawless. There was rain in Act II, Scene 7, as Ramiro and Dandini approach Don Magnifico's house for a second time. The scene was pretty and there was a chorus member walking a black poodle, which made the audience gasp.

The choreography was highly artificial, but very much with the music and suitable for the singers. Julia Rempe was especially amusing in the first scene when she is en pointe trying out ballet moves with little success.

The costumes were extremely pretty, gauzy and ribboned and Rococo. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle had a clear vision of what he wanted for staging, set, and costumes, and this was utterly apparent.

I had never seen a Rossini opera before, only heard a recording of Tancredi with Ewa Podles and Sumi Jo. Everyone knows a little bit of Guillaume Tell and Il barbiere di Siviglia, I suppose. The music was nice, very light and sweet. I liked "Una volta c'era un Re."

Sans Elephants

BsoaidaThe Ides of March performance of Verdi's Aida had a stunningly hideous staging. This production premiered the 19. January 1996, and was acclaimed by critics as "striking."

John Fiore conducted adequately, the orchestra was together with the singers for the most part. There were horns playing onstage at one point, and they did not have issues with synchronization, as in Don Giovanni.

David Pountney's staging was a bit busy, even without elephants and pyramids. So much was going on, especially in the first two acts, the sheer number of bodies was utterly confusing. Especially strange were the people who crawled on the ground, swathed a bit like mummies in white linen, they were like maggots and occasionally they bumped heads by accident.

Robert Israel's set consisted of a few walls set in triangles, each one pulled on and off stage by supernumeraries. They looked like construction sites for hyper-modern German buildings, with metal pipes here and there, a segmented glass wall, and so forth. There were a few large images incorporated in some of these, two of a brown-skinned person's nose and cheeks, one of a woman's very white thighs, another of a woman's white hands at her neck. They would lower various objects as well, including a dried tree, some stage lights, a huge boat-shaped stone, and another stone that looked like a ruin.

The costumes by Dunya Ramicová were simple, sheaths and mantels in white, black, and various blues and greens. Though Amneris did wear dark red during the first two acts, in contrast to Aida in sage green the entire time.

Nils Christe's choreography was overwrought. They used 6 dancers in various scenes in the first half, these dressed in unitards, dancing in modern technique, lots of squat-like plies, contraction, but with some more balletic movements as well. The dancers were solid and silent, if they were to reveal something about the opera, this was largely unsuccessful. Also, the choreography for the singers was not particularly good. Having Amneris spin around with joy after her engagement with Radamès is just silly.

The singing was fairly good. Baritone Giovanni Meoni stood in for Alexandru Agache as Amonasro, and was perfectly fine in the part. Tenor Stephen O'Mara was a fine Radamès, though his voice was not distinctive. In contrast, Irina Mishura, the mezzo-soprano who sang Amneris, had a dark, rich voice. Soprano Norma Fantini was nice enough in the title role, she was especially good in Act III's "O patria mia." Her voice thins out at the top, but her volume and control seemed good.

Nulla mai temer mi fa.

BsogiovanniThe Bayeriche Staatsoper's production of Don Giovanni had excellent singers but a disappointing staging. Thus far, all the productions of Mozart operas there have been fairly ugly visually, although the production teams have all been different.

Ivor Bolton's conducting was not impressive, the orchestra was not exactly together during the overture, and the singers and the orchestra seemed off from each other from time to time. Perhaps there was no souffleur? I did not see one, but the stage was raked, so maybe the singers were to follow the conductor. During Act I, Scene 20, when Don Giovanni has a ball in order to seduce Zerlina, there were masked musicians onstage in three separate groups. This produced some unintentional dissonance, more a fault of the staging than the conductor.

Nicholas Hytner's staging and Bob Crowley's sets were somewhat baffling. The stage was raked, not steeply, with walls left and right, which had various compartments that would open to be windows or chambers. There were two scrims, one normal and one near the middle which was in two pieces cut diagonally that came together in the middle. These scrims, which I suppose are not technically scrims since they weren't translucent (they were opaque red) served to make the scene changes flawless. The whole stage was red, perhaps the scrims were like valves, and it was meant to be some abstruse symbol of the human heart. This would not explain the huge golden statues of hands, one appearing in Act I Scene 16 when Zerlina sings "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" and the other in the aforementioned ball scene. We never return to this image in Act II, rendering whatever impact it was to have rather toothless.

The other major motif was the rood. Four little spirits all in white held crosses and would appear here and there, they were particularly disorienting when they surrounded the Commendatore's body.

What was most annoying was the finale, they had Don Giovanni gone entirely mad, hair a mess and barefoot, stumbling and drunk, eating his dinner with his hands on the floor. If he is out of his mind, how is his punishment just? Also, having him costumed so almost made him look Christ-like, hair down, in a plain white shirt, and wrapped in a red blanket. This image, though beautiful, makes no sense.

I must say though, they did a wonderful job with the statue of the Commendatore, the costume was very good and the scene in the graveyard was marvelous. The Commendatore's grave was his likeness on a horse, and this was surprisingly convincing.

Act II, Scene 15, when the statue comes to dinner was fairly effective. The Commendatore on foot was followed by the Grim Reaper astride a white horse. This could have easily been kitsch, but it worked very well.

The costumes, also by Bob Crowley, were all in strong colors, mostly black and red, except for statues and spirits. They were typical Rococo, though the principal sopranos all had flame-shaped, zigzagged borders in contrasting fabric at their hems. Masetto's dark green and black costume was particularly reminiscent of Frans Hals.

As for the singing, it was exceptional. Sopranos Brigitt Hahn and Aga Mikolaj were fine as Donnas Anna and Elvira, respectively. They both had passionate, fiery voices, and I have never heard two sopranos that sounded better together. Julia Rempe was much better as Zerlina than as Blonde in Entführung. Her voice is not full, it has something of an ugly edge, but she sang much better in this, one could actually hear her most of the time, and her intonation was better, perhaps since she didn't have to get that high A all the time as Zerlina. Her voice was definitely distinct from the other two sopranos, which isn't a bad thing.

Robert Saccà is a solid tenor, his voice was good for Don Ottavio, as it was for Belmonte in Entführung. Bass Maurizio Muraro has a strong voice, good diction, and acting ability to boot. Bass Taras Konoshchenko did not strike me one way or another, he could project better than Rempe. Bass Franz-Josef Selig, on the other hand, was distinctively good as the Commendatore, suitably stately and terrifying.

Bo Skovhus was incredible in the title role. Not only does he cut a dashing figure as the unrepentant rake, his voice is simply charming, light, and very suitable for the part. I remember him being similarly good as Count Almaviva in Le Nozze at SFO in 1997.

On a completely personal note, and I commend the reader for getting this far, I left my shawl in the opera house, couldn't find it and was told to wait at the stage entrance for someone to bring it down. This is where all the die-hard opera coots are, waiting for the performers to come out. It was utterly bizarre to see the singers offstage in street clothes, shaking people's hands and autographing programs. I was too bashful to say anything, I just stood there wide-eyed and blushing, no doubt.

Also, the Balkon (balcony) part of the audience appears to be quieter than the the Ränge (the 3 tiers above the balcony level) or the Parkett (floor).