Valery Gergiev

The Nose at The Met

Met-opera-the-nose-2013* Notes * 
William Kentridge's 2010 production of The Nose (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) at the Metropolitan Opera was revived on Saturday afternoon. The matinée performance was an utter delight. The combination of music, singing, animation, set, and choreography all came together wonderfully. Performed without an intermission, the intensity of the proceedings is impressive. The only real problem was that Valery Gergiev had the orchestra playing a bit too loudly for some of the singers. The tempi seemed brisk.

The ensemble and choral singing were particularly strong. Ying Fang sounded lovely in the last scene of Act I as the female soloist at Kazan Cathedral. Alexander Lewis makes for a sprightly Nose, his voice is bright. Andrei Popov also has wonderful command of his choreography as the Police Inspector and projected nicely. Paulo Szot's voice is not quite incisive enough to cut through heavy orchestration but his general demeanor as Kovalyov is sympathetic and warm.

* Tattling * 
This is the first opera at the Met since 2006 that I have attended in a regular seat, so not standing or at a score desk. Unfortunately the two people next to me in Row N of the orchestra level arrived at 1:07pm and left right when the music ended, not convenient since they were not on the aisle. I suspect they were associated with the production, which would be rather shameful, given that the man in N 116 had an iPhone that rang twice. Once was at the end of the Kazan Cathedral scene where Kovalyov confronts The Nose, and the other time was during the entr'acte before the balalaika scene.

Boris Godunov at the Met

Met-boris This season, the Metropolitan Opera is presenting two operas that weave personal emotional drama into the sweep of great historical events: Boris Godunov and Don Carlo. On October 8, the final dress rehearsal of Boris took place, and what follows are the Unbiased Opinionator's impressions.

* Notes * 
After Peter Stein's cancellation due to visa difficulties, it was left to Stephen Wadsworth, in only five weeks, to rework the show's staging and direction. Perhaps as a result of this abrupt change in leadership, René Pape's Boris seemed lost, staggering about the stage, looking more drunk than physically and emotionally tormented by the burdens of power and guilt. His vocal delivery seemed to lack core, which might be attributed to the early hour of the rehearsal. Nonetheless, his sound was diffuse and as the rehearsal progressed, tended toward a barked delivery, even in the more legato monologues. I am a great admirer of René Pape's work, however, he seemed miscast here – the effective center of his range is higher than the role demands. But, then, where are the true bassi of yore, those cast in the mold of Ghiarov, George London or Jerome Hines, let alone Chaliapin?

That said, the remaining, very large, solo cast was uniformly strong. Particularly fine were Ekaterina Semenchuk (Marina) and Aleskadrs Antonenko (Grigoriy). The performance by the young Jonathan A. Makepeace as Boris' son Fyodor was nothing short of astonishing: vocally, dramatically and choreographically. This role is often taken by a mezzo-soprano, and such a level of accomplishment by an adolescent was immensely impressive. I cannot imagine a better Pimen (bass Mikhail Petrenko), whose solemn portrayal of the hermit was very moving. Evgeny Nikitin's Rangoni could perhaps be faulted for a certain ragged vocal delivery, but this was in keeping with the smarminess of the character, alternately coming on sexually to Marina and trying convince her to seduce Grigoriy into returning to Moscow to claim the throne, paving the way for the destruction of Russian Orthodoxy by Rome.

The large chorus in Boris Godunov is a character in itself, and a very important one. Driven and oppressed, veering from servile obedience to outraged vengeance, the Met chorus was dramatically magnificent and technically unimpeachable, with razor sharp attacks, violent and dramatically overwhelming outbursts -- never yelled, or (as in previous years) fraught with poor blend and heavy vibrato in the soprano section. Donald Palumbo's work with this group has created one of the world's finest opera choruses.

As in Wagner, the orchestra is also itself a character in the opera; never a mere accompaniment, but rather a commentator on and instigator of the events taking place on stage. The incomparable Met orchestra rose to the occasion, which is particularly impressive in light of the fact that the weakest link in this performance was conductor Valery Gergiev, whose head remained buried in the score as he threw out the occasional cue with his left hand, while the right hand flaccidly and indistinctly waved about in unintelligible beat patterns. It is a tribute to the soloists, the choral ensemble and the orchestra that the performance was as cohesive as it was, with only occasional lack of coordination between the pit and the stage. Further, the tempi chosen by Gergiev, in particular in the prologue and in the Third Act Polonaise, were unconscionably rushed. The small string figures that spin over the characteristic rhythm of the Polonaise were reduced to a thin wash as the players struggled to keep up. One can only surmise, generously, that tempo choices were dictated by time constraints.

The set design was spare – even abstract, with the Novodievichy Monastery in the first act reduced to a small entry portal on stage left. The Kremlin consisted of a gold wall which descended from the flies, with a small curtained door for Boris' entrances and exits. While this created a wonderful acoustic resonator for the singers, the row of bells at the top of the set, remaining motionless as digitally produced bell sounds pealed, was frankly a bit silly. The Polish court scene consisted of rows of black columns, which provided a fine backdrop for the elaborate white gowns and hats worn by the noblewomen (designed by Dorothee Urmacher). The triumphant return of Grigory the Pretender's forces in Varmy forest, en route to Moscow, was set on a bare, raked staged, with a central rectangular opening, out of which emerged banner-waiving soldiers and two white horses, which reinforced the old maxim – live animals and children are scene-stealers. At the conclusion, the Holy Fool (in a very fine delivery by tenor Andrey Popov), bemoans the dark destiny of Mother Russia; godless, populated by a mob and rabble ready to follow any leader strong enough to bludgeon his way to power.

* Tattling * 
Peter Gelb's latest innovation, offering 1,000 dress rehearsal tickets by lottery, in addition to those offered to patrons and guild members, combined with a thoughtful and intelligent spoken introduction, and his humorous admonition that the only electrical devices that should operate during the performance be on stage and not in the auditorium, provided for a mercifully quiet, disciplined and cellphone-free audience. If only this were the case in performances and not just dress rehearsals!

The Nose at the Met

The-nose-william-kentridge * Notes * 
The fifth performance of Shostakovich's The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera was last night. Wiliam Kentridge's production is utter spectacle, the absurdist whimsy suits the music and the plot. At times, the animated projections were a bit dizzying, but overall they came off very well. There were times when the singers were placed awfully far upstage, and were, as a result, difficult to hear. The Nose himself appeared as a projection and live, the choreography was sprightly and amusing.

The orchestra sounded clear under Valery Gergiev. The cast was uniformly strong as far as both acting and singing. Claudia Waite was convincingly shrewish as the barber's wife, and Erin Morley sounded especially beautiful in the scene at Kazan Cathedral. Gordon Gietz was ridiculous as one could want for the Nose, and Andrei Popov screeched hilariously as the Police Inspector. As our protagonist Kovalyov, Paulo Szot was extremely funny. One did not have to know any Russian to understand what was going on, yet pantomime was still avoided.

* Tattling * 
There was some dialogue that was translated in projections that were not visible to everyone in the house and were not part of the Met titles. This caused certain members of the audience to talk. There was some applause as the orchestra played by itself in Act I Scene 6.

Also, it should be mentioned that somehow our friend Herr Feldheim made sure the Tattler had at least one Manhattan-based blogger to greet her at this performance.

Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra

Mariinsky-theater * Notes * 
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra performed two concerts as part of San Francisco Symphony's Great Performers Series last Sunday and Monday. The second performance began with the Royal Hunt and Storm from Act IV of Berlioz's Les Troyens. The first horn was particularly lovely, producing a smooth, milky sound, though the second horn came off slightly tinny. The musicians were very together. This was followed by Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto with soloist Denis Matsuev, a marvel of technique, without a trace of mawkishness. Unfortunately, his playing left me seasick, but the audience seemed to enjoy his playing, and he obliged by giving a music box of an encore.

After the intermission came Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15. The work is both mocking and unnerving, which came through clearly. The quotation from Rossini's William Tell Overture garnered laughter, but the allusions to The Ring and Tristan und Isolde were more disturbing. The soloists were all strong, especially the cellist. Only the trumpet sounded slightly vulnerable. The encore was a piece by Anatoly Lyadov, which required the addition of contrabassoon and bass clarinet.

* Tattling * 
At least three cellular phones rang throughout the performance. There was also some talking. There were protests against Gergiev on both Monday and Sunday, though somehow I missed this in the crowd swarming into Davies Hall.

San Francisco Symphony's 2009-2010 Season

September 9 2009: Gala with Lang Lang (Liszt, Ravel, Rodgers, Prokofiev)
September 10-12 2009: Liszt, Ravel, Rodgers, Prokofiev
September 16-20 2009: Susan Graham sings Rückert-Lieder, Mahler's 1st
September 23-26 2009: Thomas Hampson sings Mahler
September 30- October 3 2009: Scelsi's Hymnos, Mahler's 5th
October 7-10 2009: Brett Dean, Haydn's 94th, Brahms
October 11 2009: Murray Perahia, piano
October 14-18 2009: Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2, Elgar, Tchaikovsky's 6th
October 22-24 2009: John Adams' Slonimsky's Earbox, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák
October 28-31 2009: Beethoven's 8th
October 31 2009: Nosferatu (1922 film)
November 6-8 2009: Rachmaninoff's The Bells, Rachmaninoff's 2nd
November 12-14 2009: Detlev Glanert, Schumann, Sibelius' 5th
November 18-20 2009: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos 3-5  
November 20-21 2009: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
December 3-5 2009: Holiday Concert
December 9-12 2009: Beethoven's 5th
January 7-10 2010: George Benjamin, Debussy, Mendelssohn's 3rd
January 14-16 2010: Ravel, George Benjamin, Messiaen
January 20-23 2010: Yo-Yo Ma plays Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 2  
January 26 2010: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Emanuel Ax, piano  
January 27-30 2010: Stravinsky's Pulcinella
February 3-6 2010: Schubert's Mass No. 2, Ives' A Concord Symphony
February 10-13 2010: Walton's Violin Concerto, Holst's The Planets
February 18-20 2010: Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1, Beethoven's 3rd 
February 21-22 2010: Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig
February 24-26 2010: Mozart's 36th, Bruckner's 6th
March 4-7 2010: Christian Tetzlaff, violin
March 7 2010: Ravel
March 11-14 2010: Mahler's 2nd
March 20 2010: Dawn Upshaw, soprano and Emanuel Ax, piano
March 21-22 2010: Mariinsky Orchestra
April 1-3 2010: Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Shostakovich's 8th
April 7-10 2010: Rufus Wainwright's Five Shakespeare Sonnets
April 15-17 2010: The Gold Rush (1925 film)
April 17-18 2010: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
April 21-24 2010: Mozart's 35th, 41st, Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1  
April 25 2010: Emanuel Ax, piano
April 29- May 1 2010: Schumann's 4th, Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony 
May 5-8 2010: Thomas Larcher, Beethoven, Brahms
May 10-11 2010: Los Angeles Philharmonic
May 13-15 2010: Litolff, Chopin, Adam, Bizet
May 19-23 2010: Stravinsky, Ravel
May 27-29 2010: Robin Holloway, Mozart, Schumann
June 10-13 2010: Mozart, Berg, Beethoven
June 17-19 2010: Yuja Wang, piano
June 23-26 2010: Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette  

The San Francisco Symphony announced the 2009-2010 season today. Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson both sing Mahler this September. Guest conductors include Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, and Valery Gergiev.

Season Highlights | Official Site

Deutsche Oper Berlin's 2008-2009 Season

September 13 2008- July 2 2009: Turandot
September 14 2008- March 22 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
September 15-27 2008: Rigoletto
September 20 2008: L'Amico Fritz
September 21 2008- May 2 2009: Die Zauberflöte
September 30- October 8 2008: Pique Dame
October 1-5 2008: The Nose
October 2-7 2008: Chowanschtschina
October 3 2008 - February 15 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
October 22-31 2008: Manon Lescaut
October 30- November 6 2008: Lohengrin
November 20 2008- May 8 2009: La Traviata
November 28 2008- April 12 2009: Aida
November 30 2008- May 31 2009: Tannhäuser
December 8 2008- February 12 2009: Daphne
December 13 2008- March 11 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
December 14-28 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- January 9 2009: Cunning Little Vixen
December 18 2008- January 4 2009: La Bohème
January 7- June 24 2009: Tosca
January 18- February 14 2009: Die Ägyptische Helena
January 25- February 10 2009: Salome
January 28- February 13 2009: Cassandra / Elektra
February 8-27 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
March 8- July 3 2009: Carmen
March 13- April 25 2009: Un Ballo in Maschera
March 26- April 4 2009:
Andrea Chenier
April 9-24 2009: Marie Victoire
April 30- May 9 2009: Eugene Onegin
May 20- June 2 2009: La Cenerentola
May 26- June 18 2009: Der Freischütz
May 27- June 6 2009: Madama Butterfly
June 10-21 2009: Tristan und Isolde
June 17-25 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 26- July 4 2009: Tiefland

Valery Gergiev conducts Pique Dame, The Nose, Chowanschtschina. Bo Skovhus sings the title role of Eugene Onegin. Roberto Alagna sings Fritz in L'Amico Fritz, with Angela Gheorghiu as Suzel. Gheorghiu returns in May for La Traviata, and in June for Tosca. Angelika Kirchschlager sings the title role of Carmen and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Nancy Gustafson sings the Feldmarschallin in the latter, but only in December. Mariusz Kwiecien sings in the March performances of Lucia, opposite of Burcu Uyar and Elena Mosuc, who share the title role with Ruth Ann Swenson.

2008-2009 Schedule | Official Site

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.