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June 2006
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October 2006

The Emperor's Clothes


When I heard that a Mozart opera had been removed from the 2006-2007 Deutsche Oper Berlin season because it might upset Muslims, I immediately thought the offending opera was Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). My initial feeling was that it was a misunderstanding, as Abduction does involve conflict between Christians and Muslims. Of the two main Islamic characters, Osmin is stereotypically bumbling, violent, and chauvinistic. However, the other, Pasha Selim, is the most noble one in the opera, and in the end he is merciful.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the opera in question was Idomeneo: Re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante, set in the time of the Trojan War. Apparently Hans Neuenfels' production from 2003 features the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed.


There were four performances of Idomeneo scheduled for November 2006, and these have been replaced by Le Nozze di Figaro and La Traviata. From the description and photographs, this Idomeneo production looks fairly typical for German opera fare. Die Entführung aus dem Serail entirely on multi-colored sofas, Semiramide in a gym, or Die Walküre with air traffic controller torches, these are par for the course. There is much to be offended by, not so much because of cultural insensitivity, but lack of respect for the audience's intelligence.

The cancellation must be a disappointment for the cast and crew:

Conductor   Lothar Zagrosek
Producer   Hans Neuenfels
Sets, Costumes   Reinhard von der Thannen
Chorus master   Ulrich Paetzholdt
Idomeneo    Roberto Saccà
Idamante    Marina Prudenskaya
Ilia    Jacquelyn Wagner
Elettra    Iano Tamar
Arbace    Burkhard Ulrich / Paul Kaufmann
Die Stimme    Harold Wilson

Deutsche Oper Berlin Statement | NPR Segment | Deutsche Welle Article


Erin WoodSoprano Deborah Voigt was ill with a stomach flu last night, and her understudy, Erin Wood, made her San Francisco Opera debut as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera. Wood's voice is cold and pretty, but not nearly as expansive as Voigt's. At times she was slightly shrill and had too much vibrato. Wood wore a purple gown instead of the gold one worn by Voigt in the last scene.

Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa

Verdiballo1* Notes *
A Washington National Opera production of Un Ballo in Maschera opened the new season in San Francisco under the direction of Gina Lapinski. Entirely traditional in set and costume design, it was a spectacle quite pleasing to the eye with much Louis XIV splendor. There are six scenes but only one intermission, so it was no mean feat having nearly each one rather different than the next. The least fleshed-out scene is Act III Scene 2, when Gustavus is musing in his quarters before the ball. A black screen simply hides the upstage, and a desk and chair are downstage. The last scene emerges when Commedia dell'arte characters dance out and pretend to lift the screen, revealing the splendid hall with a balcony on the upper floor and large chandeliers.

Marco Armiliato did not seem to have complete control of the orchestra, they seemed just slightly off from the singers, particularly in the first act. The singers were all reasonably good, though of course, Deborah Voigt stands out, as her voice has a good deal of volume and command. Her voice is not flashy, but elegant and solid. It may not be worth mentioning, but Ms. Voigt had gastric bypass surgery and went from a size 28 to a size 14. A few years ago her contract with the Royal Opera, London was canceled because their production of Ariadne auf Naxos involved a little black dress that they felt would not work on Ms. Voigt. Her surgery, thankfully, has not ruined her voice.

Other fine singing came from soprano Anna Christy, who made a trim and dashing Oscar. Her bird-like voice has a charming effervescence. Former Adler Fellow Joshua Bloom sang well as the Count Ribbing. Bloom has had six roles at San Francisco Opera in the last two years, and I look forward to hearing him in a larger role soon. Current Adler Fellow Eugene Brancoveanu also shows promise as the sailor Christian.

None of the four singers who made their San Francisco Opera debuts with Un Ballo were terribly striking. Tenor Marcus Haddock (Gustavus III) was slightly quiet and reedy; baritone Ambrogio Maestri (Anckarström) was lackluster at times. Mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn may have produced fireballs on stage as Madame Arvidson, and though her voice does not lack fire, her singing was a bit rough and gasping. The other Adler Fellow, Jeremy Galyon, was adequate as Count Horn, but did not make a strong impression.

This is the first production of Un Ballo I have managed to see. In 2003, I had a ticket to this opera in Munich, but instead went to Venice for a few weeks. Verdi's 21st opera is based on an incident in 1792. For the premiere in Rome, Verdi was obliged to change the names of the characters and set the opera in colonial Boston instead of 18th century Stockholm. The music often has simultaneous elements of tragedy and comedy, to great effect, as seen in the finale of Act II, "Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa." The conspirators Ribbing and Horn think they've discovered Anckarström's assignation with his own wife, while Anckarström mistakenly believes that his wife and Gustavus have had a tryst. The jesting of Ribbing and Horn as Anckarström vows revenge and Amelia grieves makes for a distressing irony.

* Tattling *
The side supertitles have been removed this season and are replaced by four small screens under the boxes so the titles are nearly unavoidable. The new general director is has also concerned himself with the length of the performances, he favors early curtain times during the week, and fewer intermissions. The sentiment is a fine one, however, many people were arrived late and naturally they chattered in standing room during the first scene. During the September 13th performance I heard no less than three cell phones, one of these was from a latecomer right next to me. The audience this day was quite absurd in other ways, they applauded when Deborah Voigt made her entrance midway in Act I Scene 2, before she had sung a note. Perhaps they did not notice she is billed last in the program, as the cast is listed by vocal appearance. They also clapped for the scenery of the last scene, the ball room. In addition, they giggled at the supertitles for Madame Arvidson's line "Perchè possa rispondere a voi è d'uopo che innanzi m'abbocchi a Satàno." Apparently reading the word "Satan" is simply hilarious, for this happened at the September 20th performance as well.


Yesterday in the standing room line for Un Ballo in Maschera, two men behind me were yelling at each other. "Shut up!" said one, and "No, you shut up!" said the other. At first I assumed they must be friends simply having a bit of fun, but it became clear this altercation was in earnest. Strangely enough, there were only 5 people in line. A lady behind me asked if I had been waiting ahead of her, and I confirmed that I was second. She asserted that she was before the yelling men, and they let her be third. It was all especially bizarre since one of the men did not materialize at the appointed time for when they allow us in to take our spots.

Der Rosenkavalier at Seattle Opera

CarolvanessDieter Kaegi's production of Der Rosenkavalier was revived in Seattle last month. I remember seeing posters for the 1997 performances, in which Angelika Kirchschlager sang the role of Octavian. Alice Coote made her Seattle debut in the role this time around, and her voice was strong. She is petite next to Carol Vaness, but had a suitable boyish demeanor. Julianne Gearhart was cloying as Sophie, her voice so bright it was almost as if she was making fun of the role. Peter Rose was hilarious as Baron Ochs, he danced well, but his low notes were muddled. Carol Vaness was surprisingly inoffensive as the Marschallin, though her diction left something to be desired and she didn't have terribly good control, her acting wasn't bad.

The production itself was quite standard, the set was not elaborate but still traditional. The costumes were beautiful, all in fine rococo style. The choreography was overwrought at times. Baron Ochs' footmen got into many antics in the background, piling into the Marschallin's bed during Act I and chasing the help in Act II. Also in Act II, Valzacchi and Annina sneaked into Herr von Faninal's house and pretty much did a dance with vases while Sophie and Octavian proclaim their love for each other. While these foibles had some humor in them, in the end they were distracting and did not go with the music.