Anna Netrebko

Don Pasquale at the Met

Netrebko-kwiecien-don-pasquale * Notes * 
Don Pasquale had its 133rd performance at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night. From what I could see at Score Desk 2, the sets and costumes, designed by Rolf Langenfass, were entirely traditional. One can only imagine Otto Schenk's 2006 production was likewise.

The orchestra sounded lucid under James Levine. The trumpet solo at the beginning of Act II was especially fine. The chorus was also fine. Anna Netrebko, while not possessing a particularly apt voice for bel canto, otherwise acquitted herself in the role of Norina convincingly. Her voice remains robust and dark, her gasps rather audible. Matthew Polenzani sounded sweet and disarmingly vulnerable as Ernesto.

Mariusz Kwiecien (Malatesta) started off with a slight wooliness, but sounded strong otherwise. His acting skills were apparent through his voice. In the title role, John Del Carlo was similarly shaky at first, but again, his consummate acting came through vocally. The Act III duet, "Cheti, cheti, immatinente," was particularly charming, and we were even favored with an encore of this as the finale scene was set.

* Tattling * 
Though I did not receive my score desk ticket in the mail as I expected, the Met Opera Guild's Community Programs Fellow made sure it was waiting for me at the box office. During the performance itself, a family of three seemed completely confused about where they were sitting in the Family Circle. In any case, they were not together, and felt fit to wander over to one another and speak aloud as the performance occurred. Mercifully, they went elsewhere after the intermission.

Manon at ROH

Roh What follows is a piece about Manon at Covent Garden from Miss LCU, the second of three segments from her European holiday.

* Tattling *
I saw Manon at Covent Garden on July 7th and it is now September. Clearly, I am delinquent with my reporting duties. It does not seem to make sense at this point for me to write an actual review. I will, however, use this performance as a jumping off point for an editorial piece.

Can anyone tell me how old Manon is supposed to be in this opera? Anyone? Well, she is very young - fifteen, perhaps sixteen-years-old. So who got cast to portray Manon in the ROH production opposite the Italian tenor heartthrob Vittorio Grigolo? That would be a sultry and rather rotund Anna Netrebko with her rich, dark voice. So what is wrong with this picture? One word: verisimilitude (or the lack thereof).

For some, a few pretty voices are enough to qualify an operatic experience as good or even great. But for me, opera is a Gesamtkunstwerk - a holistic, all-embracing artistic experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. If one component of the equation is lacking, everything else comes crumbling down. Which brings me to why I (and many others) go to the opera in the first place, I go to the opera because I want to completely immerse myself in an alternate reality. For those few hours I am in the theater I want to escape from my life and my world and walk in the shoes of Violetta, Tatyana, or Wotan. I want to be able to relate to the characters - to sympathize with them and to share their joy, heartache, jealousy, suffering, and agitation as if those feelings were my own. When it all comes together - when the verisimilitude is intact - it is magical. You lose yourself and get sucked right into the production. But it is a rare and fragile cohesion, like a house of cards. If one piece is amiss, the spell is broken, and you find yourself in just another uncomfortable seat before a stage full of costumed clowns shrieking their heads off.

My point is how the heck could I possibly relate to Manon as a young teenager when she looks, acts, and sounds like a 40-year-old woman? It is much easier to condone the silly blunders of a naive, hedonistic 15-year-old coquette who is bound for the convent, but hungry to experience all the pleasures life has yet to offer. Chalk it up to her tender age, lack of experience, and insatiable appetite for curiosity. However, a woman in her late 30s who makes those identical mistakes will not inspire the same level of compassion from the audience. Those mistakes will not be viewed as unfortunate errors of judgment by a reckless neophyte, but considered character flaws of a wicked, manipulative, and seasoned gold-digger.

A poor casting decision could easily result in two completely different takeaways from the same story. Instead of compassion and pity for the female protagonist, the audience will feel that Manon got what she deserved at the end - which completely ruins the tragic effect of the opera. What makes a tragedy tragic is getting the audience to fall in love or at least identify with the protagonist (Manon in this case), despite her hamartia (or rather accepting her harmartia as a part her humanness), and then have her die. It is very formulaic, derived from Greek tragedies, and Manon's youthful charm and naivete plays a huge part in this formula as it allows her to ingratiate herself with the audience. Netrebko failed miserably in conveying these attributes. I did not buy her act and that deficiency alone ruined the verisimilitude of the opera for me. Instead of a spirited young woman, I saw someone who resembled a Russian hooker on stage. I do not have anything against Netrebko (though I did find her bragging about her distressed jeans being $1,200 during a 60 Minutes interview extremely gauche and distasteful). She is simply wrong for the part of Manon. If you want to see what a really good Manon looks like, check out the DVD with Renee Fleming in the Opéra national de Paris production. Now Fleming is no spring chicken either, but she was able to portray Manon beautifully.

SF Opera's La Traviata Media Round-Up

Production Web Site | Press Photographs

Final Dress Rehearsal: Civic Center

Reviews of the First Cast: The Opera Tattler | Not For Fun Only | Out West Arts | | San Jose Mercury | San Francisco Examiner | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Chronicle | Associated Press

Reviews of the Second Cast: The Opera Tattler | San Francisco Chronicle

Reviews of Ailyn Pérez: The Opera Tattler | Not For Fun Only

Netrebko in SF Opera's La Traviata

Netrebko-castronovo * Notes * 
Marta Domingo's "Jazz Age" production of La Traviata opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The performance marked the long-awaited return of Anna Netrebko to the War Memorial stage, as she was last here four years ago, singing Musetta in La Bohème. Netrebko did not disappoint as Violetta, her sound is rich and bright, and she has retained her good looks. Her voice has become quite full, and her volume was sometimes overwhelming. She and Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) made for an attractive pair, even though he did sound muted in comparison. Castronovo's tenor is warm and pretty, with very little strain. As Germont, Dwayne Croft did well considering he was recovering from a sinus infection. He rushed during his big aria in Act II, but the fineness of his voice did come through. The supporting cast was perfectly respectable, though perhaps less than arresting. The chorus produced a lovely sound, but were not exactly on beat with the orchestra near the end of Act I. There seemed to be a great deal of asynchrony in general, even for the opening of a new production. There were pleasing individual moments from the orchestra, however, it was not a particularly inspired performance overall.

The staging was artificial and incoherent. The sets for the first and last acts were elegant, very simple, but the Act II sets were overwrought. None of them made a good deal of sense taken together, and I was especially displeased by the return of the blinding disco ball from La Rondine. The costumes were lost, because of the colors used, they just did not read well. None of Netrebko's costumes were flattering, though the gowns were sumptuous with clean lines. Her outfit in Act II was strangely elvin, she looked like an extra from Lord of the Rings. The choreography was sloppy, the dancers were not together, and it was bizarre that they had an Arabic theme for both the Egyptian and the Spanish pieces. Worse yet were the movements of the singers, they looked stiff, like marionettes. There was no dramatic tension in the choreography whatsoever, as evidenced by the falls that Netrebko took both at the end of Acts II and III. Unfortunately, one cannot use a gag like that twice without being trite.

* Tattling * 
There was very little talking, and no electronic noise besides some hearing aid squeals. The audience was very taken with Netrebko and seemed highly engaged and attentive.

Bayerische Staatsoper's 2008-2009 Season

October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo

Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.

New Productions for 2008-2009 | Official Site

Wiener Opernball 2008

Netrebko OpernballVienna's 52nd Opera Ball featured a footballet and a performance by José Carreras. It was the first time Desiree "Desi" Treichl-Stürgkh organized the ball, which was attended by several football stars in honor of the European Championships to be held in Austria and Switzerland this summer. Other guests included Teri Hatcher, Dita von Teese, Bianca Jagger, and Anna Netrebko. According to Ö3, Dita, the guest of Richard Lugner, was well-behaved, looking more like Snow White than a stripper. She did not leave her box to waltz and departed just after midnight. Amusingly enough, Lugnar's ex wife was also in attendance.

AFP Article | Photo Galleries and Video |Wiener Opernball 2008 Site

SF Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 5-27 2008: Simon Boccanegra
September 6 2008: Angela Gheorghiu in Concert
September 13- October 3 2008: The Bonesetter's Daughter
September 23- October 12 2008: Die Tote Stadt
October 15-31 2008: Idomeneo
October 15-November 15 2008: Boris Godunov
October 29- November 26 2008: L'Elisir d'Amore
November 16- December 7 2008: La Bohème
December 11-14 2008: Three Decembers
January 10, 2009: Salvatore Licitra in Concert
May 29 2009: Verdi's Requiem
June 2-26 2009: Tosca
June 9-27 2009: Porgy and Bess
June 13- July 5 2009: La Traviata

San Francisco Opera's "Grand and Glorious" 86th season was revealed today, there are 78 performances of 11 operas, running from September 5, 2008 to July 5, 2009. Many big names this year, as promised. Angela Gheorghiu returns in La Bohème, Anna Netrebko in La Traviata, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Simon Boccanegra for the first time since he sang Germont in 2004. Samuel Ramey will sing in the title role of Boris Godunov and Frederica von Stade stars in the West Coast premiere of Three Decembers.

Another world premiere this year, no Baroque opera, three operas in English, none in French, but finally an opera in Russian. Inva Mula, the voice of the blue space alien singing Lucia di Lammermoor in The Fifth Element, will have her SF Opera debut as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. She sings opposite of Ramón Vargas.

I am most looking forward to Kurt Streit and Alice Coote in Idomeneo. I am glad to see that Joseph Calleja is having his San Francisco Opera debut as Rodolfo in La Bohème.

Summer of 2009 will be the first time in three years that I won't feel compelled to spend every spare moment at the War Memorial Opera House. I have seen the Mansouri/Bosquet Tosca several times, though I do find this opera to be one of my favorites by Puccini. Porgy and Bess is intriguing, but I doubt I'll become obsessed. Though La Traviata will be great, and I'm glad it is a new production (from Los Angeles Opera), I am not holding my breath either. Puccini, Gershwin, and Verdi will get people into the opera house, but I'd rather hear Mozart, Gluck, or Händel.

However, perhaps I should go to Bayreuth in 2009, since I will have the time. It is interesting that there will be such a large gap between the San Francisco Opera this production of Das Rheingold and whole Ring Cycle, which is slated for 2011. I had complained about too many Rings, given that LA and Seattle both have them on the schedule for next year. It was reported that Donald Runnicles would end his tenure as music director here with the Ring, just has he began his career here.

Press Release [PDF] | Season Brochure [PDF] | 2008-2009 Official Site | Examiner Article

Lorito il becco aprì, un pocco di prezzemolo da Socrate morì!

Mark Lamos' 1996 production of La Bohème is quite beautiful. Michael Yeargan's set is nearly perfect, the garrett opens up nicely into the Latin Quarter so that Act I transitions seamlessly into Act II. If only they could have done the same with Acts III and IV, the gorgeous Act III set for the Barrière d'Enfer is too clunky to be disassembled without an intermission. Walter Mahoney's costumes are appropriate, Musetta's costume at Café Momus is particularly grand, black velvet with white fur trim. The choreography was lilting almost until the very end.

As far as the January cast went Vinson Cole (Rodolfo) had a lovely voice, though his acting wasn't passionate. Neither of the female leads, Olga Guryakova (Mimi) and Dina Kuznetsova (Musetta), impressed me, but they weren't bad either. Mariusz Kwiecien was strong as Marcello, his singing and acting were solid. Ayk Martirossian sang Colline's last aria "Vecchia zimarra, senti" admirably, though that aria always strikes me as terribly absurd. Troy Cook made a dashing Schaunard, even if his voice is a little weak.

The star of the summer cast was undoubtedly Anna Netrebko, whose pure icy voice shone as Musetta. "Quando me n'vò" was one of the more thrilling moments in the opera. Elena Prokina's Mimi seemed lackluster and strained in comparison. Frank Lopardo was somewhat weak and belabored as Rodolfo. Scott Hendricks was adequate as Marcello. As for the two who played Schaunard, Johannes Martin Kränzle's voice was stronger than Brad Alexander's, but Troy Cook from January may have been the best actor of the three. Freidemann Röhlig's voice doesn't seem fully formed to me, he lacks the gravity that Ayk Martirossian possesses. But he was better as Colline than Osmin (Die Entführung aus dem Serail).

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.

A Pernicious and Corrupt Art

Last Monday I went to see Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Metropolitan Opera. Ordinarily I would avoid Prokofiev (1891-1953) altogether, his music is too modern for my conventional sensibilities. Also, Tolstoy himself despised opera, calling it a pernicious, corrupt art form, an ungainly mixing of different modalities of art. However, my friends wanted to go to the opera, and they could not afford to go to Le Nozze di Figaro, as the inexpensive tickets were sold-out for the particular evening we were in town. The only other option was War and Peace, which P had been reading. The funny thing was that C started reading War and Peace and decided that she couldn't go to the opera after all, because she wasn't finished in time and she loved it too much to spoil it in the middle. They both read it in French, apparently half the book is in French, and they are both native speakers of French, so there you are. Seeing this opera made me want to read the book itself, but it has to wait for now.

The opera was very impressive in scope, as it calls for about 60 roles, a huge chorus and a ballet. Just seeing that many people on stage is really incredible in and of itself. It was also the longest opera I have seen thus far, a mere 4.5 hours. The Metropolitan did the whole thing in one night, with only one intermission, which I thought was commendable. The music was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, it was not particularly memorable though. Anna Netrebko does have a most lovely voice, though I believe her role in Falstaff at SF Opera showed her voice more to her advantage than this opera. Again, the Metropolitan had wonderful singers all around, good staging, clean choreography, and pretty costumes. The sets were very clever, the stage was set at an angle so that upstage was actually up from downstage, and there was a circular part of the stage that could spin about, like a gigantic Lazy Susan, except flush with the rest of the stage, not raised above it. The whole experience wasn't nearly as good as Le Nozze, which goes to show that the music is essential to this opera business.

My favorite part of the opera was when they were having a celebration in the second part of the opera, and they had a huge red chicken made of cloth, it was like an enormous puppet. There were also red sparkles at this part. I couldn't believe I was seeing this in real life, it was awfully surreal.

Naturally, we must include the obligatory complaint about certain audience members. There was a lady and her child who was around 12 or so. The child ate elaborate chocolates that she unwrapped from cellophane for the second half of the first part of the opera. It was very loud, the people in front of her turned around to give her dirty looks, and my companions both noticed and were disturbed. Unfortunately, she was not directly next to me, or else I would have had her stop immediately. I had to wait until the intermission to ask, kindly as I could manage, that they not eat during the opera as it was distracting. One of the ladies in front of them smiled on me approvingly, so I felt a bit more justified in my request. They were quiet the rest of the opera, which was very nice. Why people cannot manage to do one thing at one time boggles the mind. Is there not a time and a place for different things?


Two weekends ago I went to see Falstaff with a friend who graduated in Linguistics with me. It was much fun, the opera is funny and the staging was excellent. They had a wonderful model landscape background that included minute houses and even cows, and they did a fabulous rainy scene at the beginning. The crayoning on the walls that Nannetta and Fenton do is a bit much though. I've been told by my composer friend that the opera is horribly unmelodic. I suppose it is true, there is a lot of tittering. Anna Netrebko, who played Nannetta, has a beautiful voice, and is also very lovely to look at. I wish I had seen her in L'elisir d'amore, but she didn't sing until later in the season.