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June 2011

Die Walküre at the Met (Lepage)

Walkuere-act-3-metWhilst the Opera Tattler attended a performance of Séance on a Wet Afternoon at the David H. Koch Theater on April 28, 2011, Miss LCU was nearby at Lepage's new production of Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) with the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
Of late, James Levine gets credit for simply showing up on the podium. The audience is so thrilled to see the ailing maestro that it seems he can do no wrong. However, I was not terribly impressed with the orchestra for the second performance of this latest Walküre. For one thing, the prelude was especially lackluster and rhythmically bridled. It was as if the orchestra was playing in exact unison to the measured beat of a metronome. There was a paucity of energy and agitato one would expect from music meant to represent a man who is frantically running from his pursuers in a storm. Thankfully things improved as the evening progressed.

As Brünnhilde, Deborah Voigt hit most of her notes and did not struggle with pitch. While she gave a very youthful, sassy portrayal of the valiant Valkyrie, her voice lacked nuance. She was generally at one dynamic level and yelped the high Bs and Cs when singing the word "Hojotoho." It sounded like she had hiccups and looking at the score, the composer did not intend for those octave leaps to end in clipped staccato. Voigt's interaction with Bryn Terfel as Wotan worked well. The two succeeded in establishing their close rapport and fondness for one another in Act II, making the heartbreak of their farewell at the end all the more devastating.

Terfel's Wotan was multifaceted and robust, even until the very end. He clearly did a fine job pacing himself. As Siegmund, Jonas Kaufmann was both convincing and lyrical. His voice carried effortlessly and his "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnermond" consisted of one glorious legato line after another.

In contrast, Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde) gave a somewhat disappointing performance and the strain in her voice was evident as she fought through her last phrases in beginning of Act III, which are among the most beautiful lines of music in the opera. She did have cold on opening night, so perhaps she was still on the mend.

The highlight of the evening was, surprisingly, Stephanie Blythe's portrayal of Fricka. For the first time, I saw Fricka as something other than a vindictive, nagging shrew. I was reminded that she is a woman in pain, someone who has been deeply hurt by Wotan's transgressions. Blythe opens up her character's vulnerabilities to the audience, suggesting that perhaps she, too, deserves a bit of our sympathy. In order to uphold the Law, she demands punishment and justice, but we often mistake her for someone who is solely out to seek revenge.

Wagner was deeply influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer who was known for his pessimistic view of the human condition and his philosophy of the "Will," a concept so important that Wagner felt it was necessary to use Brünnhilde to personify Wotan's Will as a separate entity apart from himself. Schopenhauer also makes a clear distinction between punishment (to prevent future violations of the law) and revenge (motivated by reconciling past wrongdoings with the pure intent to harm and no constructive impact on the future).

Perhaps Fricka is after revenge and cunningly disguises it as punishment. Wagner leaves just enough ambiguity in his score to make us wonder. The true thrill of this particular production was not delivered by Lepage's ostentatious morphing planks, but with subtlety through Blythe's artistry and empathy for her character.

Regietheater seems to operate on the notion that in order for us to make old works exciting and relevant to the younger generations, we must to rely on shock value. The beauty of Wagner's work lies within the inconspicuous moments that expose human frailty and intimacy. Directors may consider paying more attention to the small details hidden in the score rather than embellishing the composers work with obscenely grand spectacles that are neither necessary nor relevant.

Santa Fe Opera's 2012 Season

June 28- August 24 2012: Tosca
June 30 - August 25 2012: The Pearl Fishers
July 14- August 16 2012: Maometto II
July 21- August 14 2012: King Roger
July 28- August 23 2012: Arabella

Santa Fe just announced the 2012 season. Emmanuel Villaume conducts The Pearl Fishers. Leah Crocetto, Patricia Bardon, Bruce Sledge, and Luca Pisaroni have been cast in a new critical edition of Rossini's Maometto II . William Burden and Mariusz Kwiecien sing in Szymanowski's King Roger. Erin Wall sings the title role of Arabella, with Heidi Stober as Zdenka and Mark Delavan as Mandryka.

Season | Official Site

Bishop to Replace Diadkova as Fricka in SF Opera's Ring

Elizabeth-bishopElizabeth Bishop (pictured left, photo by Sasha Vasiljev) will sing Fricka in Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera this Summer. She replaces Larissa Diadkova, who has withdrawn for personal reasons. Bishop recently sang two performances of the title role in Iphigénie en Tauride at the Metropolitan Opera, replacing an ailing Susan Graham.

Press Release | SF Opera's Ring

The Eifman Ballet's Don Quixote

Eifman_don_quixote_hula-hoop * Notes *
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg is touring a production of Don Quixote, or Fantasies of the Madman. The main conceit of Boris Eifman's busy production is that the protagonist is not Don Quixote himself, but a madman imagining himself to be the knight errant. While an attempt to make to Don Quixote more accessible to a contemporary audience is commendable, unfortunately last night's performance in San Francisco never caught fire, and fell apart in the second act.

The choreography had a good deal of physical humor, but the audience did not seem to understand what was going on at all. They clapped politely when the music stopped, but there was hardly any laughter at key moments. The dancing was lovely, the Eifman Corps de Ballet were almost perfectly synchronized, whether as throng of madman or a crowd of imagined Spaniards. Sergey Volobuev was convincing as the "patient imagined himself being Don Quixote," as he was expressive from head to toe. Both with him and Yulia Manzheles ("Doctor in a madhouse") hardly had to move to convey the story, they had such presence. Their scene early in Act I with the metal circle (a hula hoop) was particularly fine.

Act II was less compelling to me, I was disappointed in tavern scene, not so much for the dancing, but for how flat the tavern girl/Dulcinea was as a character. There was also a regrettable lift in Act II, our Basil, Oleg Gabyshev had a shaky moment holding up Kitri (Nina Zmievets). There was a pause in the recorded music for the audience to clap and this was rather awkward.

* Tattling * 
The audience was disengaged, people looked at their cellular phones and spoke throughout. There were many latecomers, even after Act II started. During the intermission I heard a child on his phone declare that the 45 minutes of Act I were the most torturous of his life. It was somewhat dismaying to see that his parents had him watch Act II as well.

Anthony Dean Griffey at SF Performances

AnthonyDeanGriffey * Notes * 
San Francisco Performances presented tenor Anthony Dean Griffey (pictured left, photo by Harry Heleotis) in a recital of songs in English last Wednesday. The evening began with fiddler Paul Brown playing Fisher's Hornpipe. Brown started out of view, playing Griffey and himself onto the stage, where there were two chairs, three banjos, and another violin waiting for them. Griffey sang this set of four traditional songs whilst seated, each one accompanied by Brown on either fiddle or banjo. It all sounded very natural and easy. The second set, pieces from Old American Songs by Copland (and indeed the rest of the performance) was accompanied by pianist Warren Jones. Jones played Griffes' Barcarolle, Op. 6, No. 1 before the third set, Barber's "Sleep Now" and "I hear an Army." This was all quite lovely, and Jones gave a good explanation of the Griffes piece.

Composer Kenneth Frazelle introduced his work, Songs in the Rear View Mirror, which comprised the second half of the evening. A few photographs of William Christenberry were projected on an upstage screen. The pieces were played and sung well, though some of the text was awkward. The fourth piece, about the vine kudzu (Pueraria lobata), was particularly fun. Griffey always enunciated clearly, and could be understood without the aid of supertitles or program notes. The encore was "This Little Light O' Mine," arranged by John W. Work.

* Tattling * 
The lights came up after the second set, so some audience members might have unintentionally started the intermission early.

Les Violons du Roy featuring Alexander Weimann

LesViolonsDuRoy_01_&BernardLabadie_Credit_LucDelisle  * Notes * 
Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie (pictured left, photo by Luc Delisle) had a second performance at Berkeley's Cal Performances yesterday. This one featured the ensemble's harpsichordist, Alexander Weimann. The entire program consisted of pieces by J.S. Bach. Again, Labadie got a lot of airiness out of the players, the playing was together and smooth. There were times when the contrast between the modern instruments and the harpsichord was obvious and even jarring. Weimann did well in the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, sounding crisp and dry. Both Allegri were taken very fast, and the strings were rather loud in the final one. The Orchestral Suite No. in C major was spirited, but lacked a certain dance-like quality. Labadie did take time to introduce Contrapunctus XIV from the Art of Fugue, and his love of Bach was clear.

* Tattling * 
The mezzanine level of Zellerbach Hall was nearly empty. The only disturbance I heard was my own fault, as I dropped my program in the middle of the harpsichord concerto.

Les Violons du Roy with Ian Bostridge

IanBostridge_05_Credit_SimonFowler  * Notes * 
Tenor Ian Bostridge (pictured left, photo by Simon Fowler) performed with Les Violons du Roy at Cal Performances yesterday in Berkeley. The performance was odd but certainly of interest. For one thing, the string players of Les Violons du Roy use Baroque bows on modern instruments. The effect was bizarre, given that the bowing technique did not strike me as particularly historically informed. The playing under Bernard Labadie was fairly legato, with clear dynamic contrasts, and a nice airiness. The brisk tempi of Geminiani's Concerto Grosso No. 12 in D minor was particularly dumbfounding.

Many of the pieces Bostridge sang were those that Händel wrote for three particular tenors: Francesco Borosini, Annibale Pio Fabri, and John Beard. His voice is light and pretty. Singing with the ensemble, some of his lower notes did not resonate as nicely has his high ones did. Bostridge showed very little strain in his singing, only a few notes of Vivaldi's "La tiranna" from Arsilda, Regina di Ponto were less than effortless. Bostridge is a somewhat awkward fellow, but this is disarming at times, as when he explained how he considered "From Celestial Seats Descending" the "sexiest music Händel ever wrote." Bostridge and Les Violons du Roy gave two encores, the first from Conti's Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena, and the second from Boyce's Solomon.

* Tattling * 
Sadly, the orchestra level of Zellerbach Hall was only half full. I was seated in front of the wife of a prominent person at Cal Performances, who had the unfortunate habit of tapping her toes to some of the music. She was always on beat, but after intermission I took it upon myself to move up two rows, where I would not be directly in front of anyone.

Rigoletto at the Met

  Rigoletto-met-04302011 * Notes * 
Saturday evening's Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera was a study in extremes. On one hand, Diana Damrau gave a revelatory performance, her Gilda ranged from giddily sweet to utterly devastating. She inhabited the character with complete conviction. Her "Caro nome" was incredible. On the other hand, our Duke, Giuseppe Filianoti, left much to be desired. He seemed to throw his voice upward, in the vain hope of hitting those high notes. One could not help but feel sorry for him. The strain in "La donna è mobile" was painful, but the quartet that followed was even worse. He was dreadfully flat and cracked two notes.

As Maddalena, Nancy Fabiola Herrera was difficult to hear during the quartet, but did sound appropriately dark and earthy when her voice was more exposed. The Sparafucile was instantly recognizable as the Ferrando in Il Trovatore earlier in the day, Stefan Kocán. Quinn Kelsey (Monterone) was responsible for some of the finest singing in the first scene, the heft and richness of his voice is notable. Our Rigoletto, Željko Lučić (pictured above, © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera), also had a warm, rounded sound with beautiful resonances. His volume was strong without ever being unpleasant. As far as his acting, his movement did not project the pitifulness of a hunchbacked jester. The last duet was moving, and he did do his part.

The orchestra rushed under Fabio Luisi, there were times when one was sure the musicians were racing the singers. The chaos was occasionally overwhelming. The chorus was particularly off from the orchestra in Act I. Perhaps the configuration of the traditional, monolithic set contributed to this.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in the Family Circle was nearly empty, but the seats were nearly full. Ushers seated late patrons during the overture, and there was much talking. Someone even used his lighter to illuminate his ticket.

A cellular phone rang loudly during "Caro nome" and another electronic sound was briefly heard as Rigoletto sang near the beginning of Act II.