Last night I attended the first performance in the New York Opera Exchange's run of Così fan tutte. Their production, directed by Cameron Marcotte, not only uses the Mozart/Da Ponte work to underline contemporary assumptions about class, gender, and virtue, but offers a look at the perils of lives revolving around the poles of Starbucks and social media. Don Alfonso is an unrepentantly exploitative financier, Ferrando and Guglielmo two arrogant and ambitious Ivy Leaguers in his pay. Despina is the PA whom he admits to underpaying, Fiordiligi and Dorabella sorority sisters (and "trust fund babies," in Despina's scornful phrase) hired as window-dressing. The young men disguise themselves as Occupy protesters (an identity as farcically foreign to, and flimsily maintained by them, as that of Albanians.) In the end, Dorabella and Ferrando part ways, while Fiordiligi and Guglielmo are reconciled and reunited; but how their future will unfold remains uncertain. This reimagining of the opera's relationships was explained to the audience in English dialogue substituted for the original recits (and for Despina's opening aria.) The audience was appreciative of the topical humor, also present in projected titles which frequently took such translation options as "Promise to Skype me every day!" and "You expect loyalty from businessmen?" As I've whined before, I find partial translation distracting, myself; a curiosity of yesterday's performance was that, without exception, the singers acted better in Italian.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
It's all over. Although Lepage's production has been modified, I still feel that it lets the Ring down badly in its cataclysmic conclusion. The plaster statues of the gods now crumble into the Rhine instead of exploding above the hall of the Gibichungs, which I find dramatically and theatrically more felicitous. But while the music is driven on by the momentum of all that has gone before, the production drifts. The orchestral performance was remarkable. The sound could occasionally seem unfocused, but the Beloved Flatmate were almost directly over the pit in a Family Circle box, which may have affected my perception. The dense tapestry of leitmotivs was given vibrant color; the score's movement towards an inevitable conclusion was thrilling with tension at every turn. The close connection to the singers which has characterized the rest of the cycle under Luisi was still apparent, especially effective in evoking the clash between Siegfried and Hagen. The Trauermarsch was of a shattering intensity, silence and sound alike pushed to the limits of the bearable. The long threnody of the immolation was handled with emotional nuance, and the Erlösungsmotiv over the Rhine was radiant. If only the production had made a bolder claim about the whys of this music.
Monday, April 23, 2012
|Jay Hunter Morris, Deborah Voigt in Siegfried's final scene. Photo (c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera|
With inexorable momentum, Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk rolls on at the Met. Saturday's performance of Siegfried was remarkable for its emotional immediacy, a musically and dramatically exciting experience. I am still frustrated that Lepage's approach to the staging of the Ring is descriptive rather than analytical, but the performers did an admirable job. The humanizing approach to the Ring, while it may be the best approach to working with Lepage's sets, does not serve all the relationships of Siegfried equally well. The staging's implication that Mime is an unreliable narrator remains unexplored, but there was more detailed characterization of his relationship with Mime, which worked well. Siegfried's abuse of Mime is thus adolescent pique. The dwarf's interactions with the Wanderer further establish that Mime's disagreeability is personal, not part of a larger scheme of value; his refusal of Gastfreundlichkeit is shrugged at by the old man who dries his own boots at the fire. The orchestral performance was better-coordinated than at this cycle's Walküre; there were one or two moments where the brass sounded slightly unfocused, but matters were much improved. The horn and woodwind soloists distinguished themselves, and the forest murmurs were dreamily lovely. Whether it was the result of added experience or simply an example of a performance "clicking," I found myself more convinced and engaged by Fabio Luisi's Siegfried on this second hearing. Flexible dynamics and responsiveness to the singers made it a lively, but not a lightweight account. The orchestral playing in the final scene was so radiantly sensual as to border on the obscene; from my perspective, this counts as warm praise.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
|The Dream of Scipio (Raphael)|
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Among the heartless party guests, Kyle Pfortmiller distinguished himself as the Marchese d'Obigny, with a distinctive, richly-colored sound. Luigi Roni's Grenvil had forceful presence, and nuanced the tone of his silent interactions with Dessay well; it caused a shiver when he finally sang. Maria Zifchak was a vocally solid and sympathetic Annina. Dmitri Hvorostovsky did not seem to be at his effortless-sounding best but still sang a charismatic, vocally rich and dramatically nuanced Germont père. His interpretation offered chilling insights. A question begged by the libretto is, if Papa Germont knows how great the sacrifice he asks of Violetta is, if his opinion of her is transformed, what keeps him from reconsidering? Hvorostovsky answers this question: he really doesn't believe her. All Violetta's utterances are interpreted through what he "knows" about her already. He laughs at her--laughs!--when she says she's dying; for him, speaking of her sacrifice is a charade of good manners, helping her maintain a polite fiction of virtue. It is only at the very end--"Addio"--that his confidence is shaken, as he turns for an instant to regard her, his hat already in his hand. His scene with Alfredo I found very moving. Hvorostovsky's pause at the threshold, contemplating the stripped furniture, raised the possibility that he had come back to stop Violetta; at the least, he's surprised to find her already gone. "Di Provenza il mar il suol" was luxuriant, with the radiant sun of Alfredo's native soil in his father's voice. Not without reason, Germont is convinced that his plea to his son cannot fail. This aristocratic assurance was equally apparent in the finale of Act II, and aptly shaken in Act III, although the dignity of his bearing and authority of his sound were undimmed.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Friday, April 13, 2012
Thursday night saw the Beloved Flatmate and me at Carnegie Hall for the last in a very satisfying series of subscription concerts. Following Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Bach's Johannespassion, Thursday's concert showcased Mozart's Requiem, performed in its completed version, and paired with his Symphony No. 34 in C Major. This was my first time (hopefully the first of many) hearing the excellent Orchestra of St. Luke's live. The presence of Iván Fischer on the podium was another gift; his apparently boundless enthusiasm for the composer gives Mozart a welcome vitality and freshness. The Thirty-Fourth Symphony was joyous and graceful, with subtle changes in dynamics like shared merriment, exuberant fanfares, and interwoven musical themes like dancers in a brightly-lit room.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Sunday, April 1, 2012
|Manon and the male gaze|
Photo (c) Ken Howard/Met Opera
Fabio Luisi's leadership of the Met orchestra was light of touch, and sensitive to the quicksilver undercurrents in the score. Even when Massenet's characters dissemble, his orchestra reveals what they are thinking and feeling; Luisi and the Met forces did so with subtlety nearly always, and with well-timed escalations of passionate intensity. I especially appreciated the nuanced handling of the frequent ostinati in the strings, and the fine work of the woodwinds throughout. Anne-Carolyn Bird, with an agile, bright soprano and vivid presence, made a memorable Poussette. The Guillot of Christophe Mortagne was another standout: Mortagne sang with bright tone and assured diction, and acted with comic opera flair. David Pittsinger sang the Comte des Grieux with consistently elegant phrasing and rich, expressive sound; his Act III scene with Beczala was notable for its emotional nuance. Paulo Szot sounded somewhat grainy, but made a charismatic (and thoroughly caddish) Lescaut.