William Kentridge

Wozzeck at the Met

WOZ_1544a* Notes *
William Kentridge's latest production of Wozzeck (pictured, photograph by Ken Howard) at The Met perfectly captures the nightmarish quality of Berg's piece. The opening yesterday evening was one of immersive theater and absolutely beautiful playing from the orchestra.

The set is dark, filled with projected drawings, animations, and video footage of human movement. The beauty of the images really puts to shame much of the screensaver-like video projections we often see on the opera stage.

There are a couple of actors dressed up as soldier/nurse hybrids complete with gas masks, caps with red crosses, and aprons. It was as if Kentridge's images had come to life and the effect is unsettling.

Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted a clarion orchestra, the shape of the music apparent and striking. The banda that comes on stage through a wardrobe did particularly well. The chorus also was great, sounding cohesive and embodying the aesthetic of the production.

The cast is strong, as one would expect. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn is malicious but still comic as the Doctor, matched well by the incisive tones from tenor Gerhard Siegel as the Captain. Tenor Christopher Ventris is a bold Drum Major, appealing but his cruelty comes through clearly in Act II, Scene 5, when he taunts Wozzeck.

Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford (Margret) has some wonderfully deep low notes, a fine contrast with soprano Elza van den Heever (Marie). Van den Heever showed her range, she could be terrifying, almost harsh and sweet and even close to angelic. Most impressive is baritone Peter Mattei in the title role. His warm sound is engaging, and his pathos made Wozzeck seem very human.

IMG_1901* Tattling *
We sat in Row B, all the way to the right of the house. After 8pm, when the performance was supposed to begin, a woman boldly sat in front of us, where one of the staff usually sits to guard a door to the orchestra pit. The employee directly asked to see the person's ticket, and she made many excuses, even lying that she did have that seat.

There was some light talking, and someone loudly hushed the offenders at least once. Some people definitely left early, even though there was no intermission.


Refuse the Hour Review

Refuse-the-hour-2017* Notes * 
The West Coast premiere of William Kentridge's multimedia extravaganza Refuse the Hour (ovation at Saturday's evening performance pictured) was presented at ACT last weekend before heading south to Los Angeles. The frenetic piece is the companion of Kentridge's Refusal of Time, a video installation recently at SFMOMA, and it too contemplates nature of time and colonialism throughout the world.

The work, billed as a chamber opera,  is chock-full of ideas and features declamations (some backwards) from Kentridge in his characteristic uniform of white button-down shirt and black slacks along with dance from Dada Masilo and Catherine Meyburgh's video design.

Philip Miller's score probably would not stand well on its own, this is very much opera as theater rather than music, but so much the better, it would be distracting for the images and sounds to compete even more than they already were. The musicians were conducted by Adam Howard (who also played trumpet and flugelhorn) also included percussion -- most notably a drum kit attached to the ceiling -- violin, trombone, tuba, piano, and two vocalists. Joanna Dudley's vocalizations were much more like speech, while Ann Masina sounded rather more rich and operatic.

What I loved most was seeing Dada Masilo in person, it was thrilling to watch her move with such speed, elegance, and beauty through the chaos of sounds and images. Her stillness too was impressive, especially when she posed on a circular platform, holding her arms and one leg in large metal megaphones, as Kentridge slowly spun her around.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet and in any case, it was hard to hear anything much over the sounds coming from the stage.

There was a reception afterward on the fourth floor of Kensington Park Hotel that many of the cast members attended, including William Kentridge, who, like everyone else, was not in his performance costume.


Kentridge's Winterreise

Kentridge-winterreise-sf-2016* Notes *
SF Opera Lab began with visual artist William Kentridge's production of Winterreise last weekend. His beautiful meditations on Schubert's Lieder are deeply immersive and the incredible performers, baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser though very talented, seemed almost incidental to the work.

The effect Kentridge gets with mostly black and white projections on a surface layered with paper is compelling, so much so that it was hard for me to focus in on the music. The landscapes and figures dancing or walking across dictionary pages completely held my attention for the 80 minute performance, which seemed much shorter to me.

Goerne has an absolutely gorgeous voice, vital and strong, but I was glad I had heard him before, because in this it might have been lost on me. The sound in the Taube Atrium Theater seemed properly adjusted, some of the weird echoey effects noticed at Daniel Okulitch's Schwabacher were not in evidence.

Tattling *
The audience was quiet. We were asked to look at our programs before the performance began and the lights were kept off, so browsing the translations was not a true option.

The much-touted cup holders were not in use, as we were asked to not bring beverages into the hall for this performance.


The Met's Lulu

TS00725a* Notes * 
A spectacular new production of Lulu (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) opened at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Director William Kentridge's staging is vibrant, and the singing and playing was strong.

There were times when the production was perhaps busy, there was a lot of enormous video art projected across the stage and much use of silent dancers, but Kentridge's visual language has a marvelous consistency. The silent film in the middle of the opera came out rather beautifully.

The orchestra gave a spirited performance under the baton of Maestro Lothar Koenigs, and the music is utterly disturbing, as is the whole opera. I felt viscerally ill, and have rarely been so physically effected by a performance.

All the singing was perfectly fine, the piece is well-cast. Tenor Daniel Brenna had a lovely Met debut as Alwa. Susan Graham was impressive as Countess Geschwitz. Best of all was the Lulu, Marlis Petersen. Not only does she have incredible legs that were put to good use in the staging, her voice is powerful but still has a wonderful fragility to it that works really well in embodying the role.

* Tattling * 
Standing room in Family Circle only had about four people, and there were plenty of seats for the taking. As there was nearly no one near me, there was little bad behavior on display. The video art is perhaps best viewed from afar, I was glad to not be on the orchestra level for this one.


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.


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.