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February 2007
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April 2007

Tannhäuser at LA Opera

Tannhaeuser* Notes *
A few weeks before I was to catch the last performance of Tannhäuser in Los Angeles, I received an alarming postcard from the opera warning that viewer discretion was advised as there was nudity, sexual content, and strong language in the production. The bacchanalia was explicit, though watching scrawny ballet dancers prance about in lingerie was not particularly titillating. It was surprising how nonchalant the audience was about the simulated sex scenes in an opera, but they were warned and it did fit the plot. Certainly it was more in keeping with the spirit of the opera than the boring Robert Wilson Parsifal in 2005.

Speaking of boring, the first act was awfully long and not much happened, but it did pick up and I ended up liking the opera over all. The singing competition in Act II was not unlike Die Meistersinger, which I adore, though the end of the act was a bit odd, at least musically. It seemed superfluous, especially when Tannhäuser sings "Nach Rom!" and everyone joins in with another "Nach Rom!" The choral parts in the last act were amazing though.

The orchestra was not together, even under James Conlon, the music director of the Los Angeles Opera. In the title role was Peter Seiffert, who had an annoying amount of vibrato. Lioba Braun was a shrill Venus, which was rather inappropriate. Thankfully, Petra Maria Schnitzer sang well as Elizabeth. She had good volume, enough vibrato but not too much, and good diction. The audience liked Martin Gantner very much, his baritone is pleasing. I believe I last heard him as Guglielmo in Così at the Bavarian State Opera in 2003, and I remember liking his voice then as well.

Gottfried Pilz's set and costumes had a lot of clean lines. I did like how the set turned, which made the scene changes simple. The set remains for all three acts, so in a way it's a bit heavy-handed, the scenes for sacred and profane love are the more or less the same, but with different colors. The thing that irked me most was the neon lighting. Maybe at Venusberg it was fine, but at Wartsburg?

* Tattling *
People were pretty well-behaved, there was some chatter, but it was minor. Mostly they seemed bored, perhaps they were expecting something more exciting since their discretion was advised.

Angela Gheorghiu Concert at LA Opera

Gheorghiu* Notes *
Soprano Angela Gheorghiu gave a concert in Los Angeles last Saturday. The program was divided into a French section and an Italian section, there was much Gounod, Massenet, and Puccini. The orchestra played several overtures, some interspersed with the arias to give Gheorghiu time to rest or change outfits.

Gheorghiu's technique is excellent, and her voice is lovely. Her choice in arias was not exciting at all, though her renditions of the "Habanera" and "Pace, pace mio Dio" were strong. In general, she seemed rather detached from the music, this was especially noticeable in the Puccini.

Eugene Kohn did not keep the orchestra together, his conducting was not something I'd care to hear again.

* Tattling *
Angela Gheorghiu gave 5 encores, including a song in Romanian and "I Could Have Danced All Night." She sang the latter quite terribly, just as an opera singer would. She also wore three different gowns during the evening, a orange-red one, a white maternity-looking one, and a black-beaded spidery one.

Triple Concerto

Eroicatrio* Notes *
The Eroica Trio played Beethoven's Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, Op. 56 with San Francisco Symphony in the second week of March. They were quite attractive but their playing was lush and rather romantic. This was not altogether bad given what they were playing, but at times it was a little too much. The pianist, Erika Nickrenz, never seemed to take her foot off the pedal. Sara Sant'Ambrogio came off best, since the cello part is the strongest. For their encore they played a tango, and tellingly, they played it in exactly the same luxuriant manner they had taken the Beethoven.

Alan Gilbert started off the evening conducting Thomas Adès' Chamber Symphony, which was amusing. The pianist had to also play accordion, and what could be more entertaining than that!

They finished with Mozart's Symphony No. 41, Jupiter. It was taken at a good pace and was together, so I can't complain.

* Tattling *
The symphony audience was uncharacteristically badly-behaved. There was one mobile phone ring during Jupiter, somewhere in the orchestra section. At least it was silenced right away. People also chattered.

Giulio Cesare at Seattle Opera

Cesare* Notes *
Händel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto opened for the first time in Seattle late last month. The production came from Florida Grand Opera and featured a great deal of dancing, choreographed by Donald Byrd. It was a bit loud and distracting at times. Paul Steinberg set had the effect of a pop-up book, rather flat and plenty of primary colors. The scribbles on some of the scenery reminded me of the painter Lilo Rinkens.

The singing was not particularly stunning. Everyone had far too much vibrato, especially for Baroque music. Alexandra Deshorties did not impress as Cleopatra, though she is rather pretty, her stage presence left something to be desired. Ewa Podleś was certainly not the most convincing Cesare, she is not terribly manly in her deportment. The role seems tasking for her, she was better as Erda at Seattle in 2005. Kristine Jepson at least looked boyish as Sesto Pompeo, but her voice was thin. Brian Asawa was a villainous Tolomeo and his voice was good. Helene Schneiderman was strongest as Cornelia, she both sang and acted well.

The orchestra, conducted by Gary Thor Wedow, did not seem to be together. The horn solo in "Va tacito e nascosto" was appallingly bad on the March 3rd performance. It sounded as if the person playing was being strangled, the notes were not just off-key but completely wrong.

* Tattling *
This was a very well-behaved audience. A few people fell asleep and snored, but other than that, there were no disturbances

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Revelations_2* Notes *
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater comes to Berkeley nearly every year, with several performances and more than one program. This year the New York based company was here from February 28 until March 4, and I attended the first performance.

They opened with Twyla Tharp's The Golden Section from 1983, with music by David Byrne. The piece was very pleasing to me, lots of motion and energy. Karole Armitage's 2006 Gamelan Gardens was less so, the music by Lou Harrison grated on me. The movements had a strong clarity and elegance. They ended with Alvin Ailey's Revelations, still so beautiful 47 years after its first performance. The dancing was strong throughout, the timing good and the dancers had a strong sense of intention.

* Tattling *
People did not chatter too much during the dancing. A cellular phone went off during Revelations.

Die Zauberflöte at the Met

Zauberfloete* Notes *
Last Saturday's evening performance of Die Zauberflöte at the Metropolitan Opera was remarkable, though not for the singing. Julie Taymor's untraditional production was elaborate and whimsical, her costumes seemed to have Persian and Japanese influences. The production made ample use of puppetry to good effect. The kite-like fabric puppets were manipulated with rods by people dressed in black, reminiscent of both Wayang and Bunraku. It was entrancing, but the magical atmosphere was not sustained as well in the second half of the opera, which was more subdued.

The sets, designed by George Tsypin, looked space-age Egyptian. The stage moved in a circle, making for easy scene changes. At times it was slightly loud, but the most disruptive part of the set was when curtains were torn from a doorway, the velcro sound was unmistakable. Donald Holder's lighting had some problems against the shiny surfaces, at times I was blinded by reflections.

James Levine was simply amazing, the orchestra sounded perfect and the singers were never off from the music. Unfortunately, the Queen of the Night was ill, poor Cornelia Götz gasped through her two gloriously difficult arias. Her voice sounded stuck somewhere inside her head and she was, at times, flat. Lisa Milne was better as Pamina, her voice was warm and pleasant. Michael Schade was an earnest Tamino and Rodion Pogossov a charming Papageno. Both had perfectly nice voices, but neither was incredible. Bass Vitalij Kowaljow did not have consistent tone for the range of Sarastro, it was difficult to hear his low and high notes. Jennifer Aylmer sang reasonably well as Papagena, but her movements were just perfect as she pretended to be an old hag and when she revealed her true self.

* Tattling *
It seems that no one in the standing room line was there for Die Zauberflöte, so we didn't see any familiar faces from Eugene Onegin. The audience was badly-behaved. People behind us and in front of us spoke aloud during much of the performance. Some standees tried to sit during the middle of the last scene and were reprimanded. The person at standing room place 5 might have had Tourette's Syndrome, for he kept quietly swearing and humming during much of the performance, only stopping to eat candies. The unwrapping of said candies was loud, as was some of the crunching involved. When we did not get out of this fellow's way during the final round of applause, he pushed his way behind us without excusing himself.

Eugene Onegin at the Met

Onegin* Notes *
Last Saturday's matinee of Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera was sold out, but was broadcast in movie theatres in seven countries. The production was done by Robert Carsen, with sets and costumes by Michael Levine. The sets were rather minimal, the first half has a bunch of autumnal leaves on the ground and these are swept around to suggest rooms. The scene changes were swift, expect in the case of the two last scenes in Act III. This one took more time than the others, perhaps because the chairs that had been brought on stage in the transition between Acts II and III had to be cleared. It was a contrast from the switch between acts that was done without the curtain falling. Valery Gergiev conducted well, it was interesting how slowly he took Monsieur Triquet's aria. The chorus did seem somewhat unwieldy, but the orchestra never did.

Renée Fleming sang Tatiana well enough, but didn't seem engaged with the character. She also nearly tripped in the second scene, but not while she was running around throwing leaves around. Elena Zarembra (Olga) had a bit too much vibrato, even for Tchaikovsky. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was fine in the title role, he was both dashing and sullen. His voice is nice, but not as spectacular as Ramón Vargas'. Vargas had beautiful tone and he acted well. On the whole, the acting and singing was at a high level.

* Tattling *
The standing room line was about 100 people deep by 9:00 am. We arrived at 6:40 am and were fifth and sixth. Josephine was there with a bright blue furry headband on and her green coat.

The audience wasn't great, there was some chatter and the girl next to me kept laughing at poor Eugene.