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Frosting for hair

Aldenrinaldo1The David Alden production of Rinaldo at the Bavarian State Opera was not particularly well-attended, and at each intermission, people left. This was more pronounced for this production than for Rodelinda.

Part of the problem was the singers. None of them were particularly stunning. The lead, Ann Murray, has a voice that lacks substance and depth. Her high range is not bad, but her lower range does not project well. Sometimes she uses too much vibrato. She is no Ewa Podles.

Then there were the three mediocre countertenors, really more than any audience can bear. Dominique Visse (Goffredo) has a reedy, whiny voice. Axel Köhler (Eustazio) does not have good volume. Christopher Robson (Mago cristiano, Donna, Araldo) has a pretty voice when he is within his rather limited range. There were too many points in which they had these countertenors go into their actual voices, the effect was unpleasant.

Deborah York was not horrible as Almirena. Her voice is pretty, like a little bird's. At times it was difficult to hear her over the orchestra. The best singer was Veronica Cangemi as Armida. Her volume was always good, but her voice is not beautiful. But as the villain, this is perhaps not the detriment it would be otherwise. She acted well.

The costumes were a bit random. Rinaldo wore suits with fedoras and trench coats, very simple. Almirena wore a fifties style dress, crusader armor that she stripped off to reveal a cheerleader outfit, some strapless short gown that was billowed up on the right side to make her look like she was in motion, and a corset with a tulle skirt. Armida wore an asymmetrical gold dress, then a jade colored silk outfit that looked vaguely mughal (she also wore a bindi with this). But her last outfit was most strange: she wore a huge gold mask, perhaps Southeast Asian in style; long golden claws; a gold corset; and a black poodle skirt with a gold dragon instead of the poodle.

Best of all, the sirens had frosting for hair. They looked a bit like cupcakes. Though the Mago cristiano wore stilts and a huge hat with many long spongy points.

The production was atrocious. The first scene had a larger than life-sized plastic Jesus statue, the last scene had innumerable small plastic Jesus statues lined up all across the stage. The worst was the giant plastic doll, one story tall. It was a school boy, wearing a blue hat, red tie, yellow sweater, red shorts, gray socks and black shoes. He had a spring for a neck and first appeared in Act II, scene iv. He just moved about the stage, and then his shorts fell down for some reason that is rather unclear to me. There was some tentative booing at this point.

There are many good arias in Rinaldo, but most of them seem to be in Act I. Act III is a mess, dramatically much happens, but there does not seem to be enough music to sustain this, the act is a mere 40 minutes long. The finale is brief, simply light and twinkling. As a whole, the opera did not have balance.

Prendete questo fiore

BsotraviataThe Bavarian State Opera production of La Traviata was impressive as far as the principal singers. Anna Netrebko sang Violetta, and she was simply perfect. Her voice is supple and nearly angelic. This part showed her abilities off more than in others I have heard, she was Nannetta in Falstaff at San Francisco and Natasha in War and Peace at the Met. Rolando Villazón was also good as Alfredo, his tenor utterly warm and light. Paolo Gavanelli's voice was almost too sweet to be that of Alfredo's father Giorgio. His upper range had a slight tentativeness. Various people around me booed at him, I can only think it must be for some political reason, as his voice is beautiful.

Helena Jungwirth (Annina) was again, inaudible. Ann-Katrin Naidu (Flora) alternated between shrill and throaty. The chorus was excellent in the first act, but the male chorus was not together in the second.

The staging, produced by Günter Krämer, sets by Andreas Reinhardt, was ugly, it involved walls and doors. There were leaves all over the stage. Act II, scene one included a swing, teeter-totter, and beach umbrella. The Carlo Diappi's costumes, however, were elegant. Tuxedos and evening gowns, just white and black.

The audience was more well-behaved than usual, and I was able to concentrate. It was very moving, but I don't know if that is because of the music, the performers, or simply because I was able to forget myself.


Aldenritorno1Bayerische Staatoper's production of Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria had almost no redeeming qualities. If they find Baroque operas so boring they shouldn't bother putting them on. It shows very little respect to be making Monteverdi's opera into a farce. It was so bad that even I could not sit through it twice, though I had a ticket for the performance on the 18th, the thought of going again made me feel ill.

David Alden's remarkable work included the return of the Chattering Teeth head, playboy bunnies, a gigantic projected raven, hot dogs, and the eating of a cat. If he had only stopped here, it would have been merely bad. The laughter that ensued after this must have been gratifying. I'm sure they were pleased to be able to use the Chattering Teeth head again in Siegfried.

Worse yet, the singers were made to tap dance and flamenco during the music, although the movements involved are both percussive and inappropriate for Monteverdi. It made me wish for the drunken staggering Alden has used in every other production of his I've seen, at least that is not loud. Also, some of the singers would punctuate their parts with stuttering or screaming, elements not found in the music.

It must have been difficult for the audience to focus on the singing, they talked and laughed quite a lot. Rodney Gilfry, who sang the title role, has an excellent voice, very rich and full. Vivica Genaux, as Penelope, was disappointing, the mezzo's voice is underdeveloped. She sounds light and young. Toby Spence (Telemaco) also sounded a bit young, but for his part it was appropriate.

I was unable to get a good feel for Monteverdi from this opera, as the production was distracting. The scene in which Odysseus kills the suitors had the most powerful music.

Ingrata, t'amo ancor

BsoluciaTickets to yesterday evening's performance of Lucia di Lammermoor completely sold-out, presumably because Edita Gruberova was singing the title role. She is in her 25th year of singing Lucia, and she is quite remarkable. Her voice can be the very embodiment of icy perfection. The audience screamed and clapped after "Quando rapito in estasi" for more than thirty seconds, and after the mad scene for at least a minute.

Marcello Viotti was adequate, the pacing seemed right. Robert Carsen's staging was dull, it involved walls with recessed square panels, like the ceiling of the Pantheon. These walls were arranged at angles to suggest a vanishing point of a painting and perhaps confinement. Richard Hudson's costumes all involved plaid except in the case of Lucia. This heightened the absurdity of an opera whose setting is Scotland, but whose language is Italian.

Paolo Gavanelli, as Enrico, was most impressive besides Gruberova, his baritone is very pleasant. Tenor Marcelo Alvarez was also quite good, one of the better tenors I have heard at the Bayerische Staatoper. The sextet in Act II Scene II was incredible. The only weak voice was Helena Jungwirth as Alisa, though it is a very small part with no aria. I could not hear her over the music from where I was.

Queen of Lombardy

Aldenrodelinda2I had the dubious pleasure of seeing David Alden's new production of Rodelinda twice within a fortnight. It was more tame than I expected, no giant robot lab rats, no walking dentures. Thankfully, there was plenty of cigarette smoking, a little drunken staggering, and naturally, things were thrown. Also, five shots were fired from a gun in the last scene, at least it wasn't during the music, as in Götterdämmerung.

The staging aesthetic was reminiscent of Film noir, the costumes were all in 1930s style. The choreography was not too bad, it went with what they were going for, and the principal singers all moved well. Too bad the chorus of background dancers they had were not synchronized.

The transitions between scenes were smooth, although some of the set was quite loud when moved. Also, I did not appreciate that the set took so long to be put in place during the intermissions, one hour for two intermissions is too long for a three hour opera.

Händel's music is celestial, but the chorus is missed in this. The finale is appropriately strong though, hearing all the voices together after all the arias makes an impact.

Ivor Bolton seems to conduct Händel much better than Mozart. It always seems much more together, I have noted this with Saul and Serse as well.

The singing was adequate, no one was particularly brilliant. Dorothea Röschmann in the title role was the most impressive, but she looks timid and she has a tendency to gasp occasionally. Her voice is sprightly. She was excellent in her duet with Michael Chance, she did not overshadow him although the countertenor voice is always a little false next to a soprano. Michael Chance as Bertarido wasn't bad, his voice has sweetness to it, but when he slipped into his real voice, it was obvious. Paul Nilon as Grimoaldo had a likable voice, like most tenors, a little too quiet. I was surprised by Felicity Palmer, who was a sassy Eduige. Her volume is good, but her voice is a little rough. Her shoulders are as slumped as I remember in Giulio Cesare, and she looks most comfortable in the suit that she wears in the last act. Everyone loved Christopher Robson best, he played the buffoon as Unulfo. They have him walk around on stage with a kitchen knife stuck in his arm, when Bertraido mistakenly has wounded him. This got wild applause, though there is no aria in that section.

The audience was very indifferent during the 2. July performance, many people left, there was hardly any applause. In contrast, the 9. July audience clapped after every single aria, but some people left this performance early as well.