Saturday, January 10, 2015
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
La forza del destino (Bayerische Staatsoper): Perhaps it is disappointing that my No. 1 for the year happened on January 6, but opera doesn’t work on a film schedule. Despite some sizable drawbacks--lackluster conducting and a production which was only occasionally brilliant--it still seemed to be operating on a drastically higher level than virtually everything else I saw this year.
Verdi Requiem (Orchestra and Chorus of Santa Cecilia): I didn’t write about this one here, but it was on May 18 at the Royal Festival Hall in London, conducted by Antonio Pappano. A great performance with excellent solo contributions by Hibla Gerzmava and Joseph Calleja.
The Death of Klinghoffer (Met): The most electric, urgent performance I’ve ever seen at the Met.
Best Individual Performances
Anja Harteros, La forza del destino (Bayerische Staatsoper)
Anna Netrebko, Macbeth (Met)
Michael Volle, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Met)
Achievement in Worthwhile Production of Relatively Obscure Opera
George Enescu's Oedipe (Oper Frankfurt)
Achievements in Comedy
The entire cast and production team of Gianni Schicchi (Curtis Opera Theater)
Kevin Burdette, The Barber of Seville (Opera Philadelphia)
Michael Fabiano, Die Fledermaus (Met)
Achievements in Production-Related Kitsch
Werther and Die Fledermaus at the Met (tie)
Achievements in Unmemorable Productions of Le nozze di Figaro
Met and Royal Opera House (tie)
Achievement in Crazy
Simone Kermes, Platée (Les Arts Florissants). I'm never sure if we're laughing with her or laughing at her. That's a post I wish I had written.
Elektra (Aix-en-Provence Festival)
Rusalka (La Monnaie) (my review of this production from Dresden)
Will there be more in 2015? We shall see! I will be at the Met next week for Die lustige Witwe.
Photo: I have no idea where I got this GIF but it's always a big, um, hit.
Posted by Micaela at 1:40 PM
Thursday, December 25, 2014
|Hanna's wealth obviously went into her Pontevedran Tracht wardrobe.|
If you'd like to hear more about the operetta's history, you can also read my academic article on this very topic, "Die lustige Witwe and the Creation of the Silver Age of Viennese Operetta," which appeared in the summer 2014 issue of Cambridge Opera Journal. Here is the opening of my piece:
When Wilhelm Karczag first heard Franz Lehár’s score to Die lustige Witwe, he supposedly exclaimed, ‘Das is ka Musik! [That ain’t music!]’. The setting was Lehár’s own apartment on the Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna in the summer of 1905, a little before the operetta was to premiere at Karczag’s Theater an der Wien. This anecdote, not celebrated in print until 1924 and disputed by several of those who claim to have been present, makes Karczag the butt of a joke, for Die lustige Witwe was the music that would rule operetta for the next two and a half decades. Karczag’s Hungarian accent—he had moved from Budapest only four years prior—is rendered phonetically, marking him as an outsider who could not hear what the rest of the Vienna later recognized.Continue here (PDF in Google Drive). If you have access to Cambridge University Press journals online (if you are reading this from a college or university network, you might), you can see the properly typeset version here.
Lehár’s audition for Karczag became an iconic event in Die lustige Witwe’s narrative as an underdog success. The operetta’s purportedly hostile initial reception, including not only the resistance of the theatrical management but also its ostensibly lukewarm opening night, positions it as a ‘Naturkind’—so radically different in tone from Karczag’s operetta habits that he was unable to recognize it as music. Against all odds, it emerged to conquer the theatrical world and launch what would become known as the Silver Age of Viennese operetta. This was a story told over and over again in Viennese newspapers. The shifting details in the retellings of this anecdote by those involved in the original production were, in large part, reflective of a dispute over ownership. Everyone—composer, librettists, impresarios, and actors—was eager to claim credit for (and preferably also some of the profits from) the greatest theatrical success of the time.
Also on the operetta front, I hope to write an overdue post about Piotr Beczala and Jonas Kaufmann's dueling attempts to resurrect 1920s operetta and Schlager, AKA the Eduard Künneke revival we've all been waiting for. (I don't know about you, but I've been waiting.) See you soon.
Photo copyright Ken Howard/Met
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Sunday, November 23, 2014
|Opera groups: Rossini wants you to post|
production photos on the Internet!
Let’s start with the awesome, and not-Rossini, part: Curtis followed the short La scala di seta with Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Granted, Gianni Schicchi is a hard act to top with anything, but this one was the most uproarious hour of opera you could imagine. Together with the Curtis’s crack orchestra (conducted by Lio Kuokman), it was loud, energetic, and dramatically alive. Stephanie Havey’s production is a cartoonish farce, taking place in a bank vault, the floor littered with coins and various signs of wealth all around. (The sets are by Brandon McNeel and look great. How Curtis manages to consistently surpass the production values of many regional-level opera companies beats me. It also baffles me as to how I am unable to find any photos of these excellent designs!) The production was updated as well as aggressively localized, with the surtitles moving Signa to Jersey, mentioning cheesesteak, giving poor Buoso a casino in Atlantic City, making Schicchi a Democrat from the suburbs, and so on. It’s cute, funny, and, together with the manic committment of the cast, really works.
The cast included several singers who really stood out: Sean Michael Plumb was a youthful Gianni Schicchi with the look and apparent guilelessness of Andy Dwyer, only smarter, and sang with a medium-sized, exceptionally musical baritone, really making something special of his brief monologues. Evan LeRoy Johnson as Rinuccio has a sweet and ringing lyric tenor, and Kirsten MacKinnon’s smoky lyric soprano sounded intriguing as Ciesca and I wish she had sang more. (Note: most roles are double-cast and I saw the November 21 performance.)
Curtis preceded this with Rossini’s La scala di seta, which was new to me. The set gave us a steampunk confection of old scientific instruments, gears, and a mixture of present and historic images. I couldn’t figure out a logic behind this, but it looked nifty. More importantly, Havey and the cast kept a good balance between comedy and character development. Seemingly minor characters like servant Germano (sung by Dogukan Kuran) became big comic hams, failed suitor Blansac a dandy short on self-awareness, and Giulia a popular girl who knows how to get what she wants. Singing-wise, none of the cast members were totally consistent, though all had some strong moments. Johnathan McCullogh as Blansac seemed the most suited to Rossini, as well as showing excellent comic timing.
The Academy of Vocal Arts’s production of L’italiana in Algeri was less happy. AVA has a very distinguished record of producing famous singers--relatively recent grads include Angela Meade, Michael Fabiano, and Stephen Costello--but despite some great voices their shows are rarely as polished as Curtis’s. They trade in the kind of über-traditional productions which dare you to suggest that opera is about anything other than la voce, and tend to produce exclusively warhorse operas. The repertoire makes sense for the students, but I can’t help but wonder about the stogy stagings. Dorothy Danner’s schtick-heavy production trapped the cast in convention and cliché, and none of them appeared to connect to the drama and to each other in the organic way the (mostly less experienced) Curtis singers did.
Perhaps I am being overly harsh, because at this performance circumstances conspired against everyone. After their main run in Philadelphia, AVA brings their productions out for a single evening on the Main Line, which was the performance I attended. Heating problems necessitated a last minute change of venue from the Haverford School to Bryn Mawr College’s Goodhart Hall. Goodhart is possessed neither of orchestra pit nor surtitles but is endowed with a cavernous cathedral ceiling which did nothing for solo voices. It also positioned the orchestra behind the singers, and lacks a Maestrocam-type monitor--meaning the singers had no eye contact with the conductor, hence the aforementioned white-knuckle Rossini crescendos. For the audience, the loss of the surtitles was the gravest blow. This is a funny opera, but most people were barely following the plot and no one was laughing at the jokes. This took a lot of air out of the proceedings, and I wished they’d simply postponed the opera until they could perform it properly. I liked that the orchestra went to the length to find a mezzaluna, however I wished its sounds had been as impressive as its looks. It loomed over the orchestra yet produced the sound of a few decorative jingle bells hung on a door.
I doubt this weird venue showed the singers at the best. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Hannah Ludwig’s performance in the title role. She has a deep, chocolatey mezzo and a likeable stage presence. Michael Adams was impressive as Taddeo, and André Courville, as Mustafa, showed an excellent lyric bass, unfortunately combined with a rather stiff stage manner. (AVA is also mostly double-cast; I saw the November 18 performance.)
Winter in Philadelphia will be less Rossinian: AVA performs La bohème in February and Curtis does Ariadne auf Naxos in a co-production with Opera Philadelphia. Curtis will finish their year with The Rake’s Progress, and AVA with, in warhorse fashion, Faust.
Rossini, L’italiana in Algeri. Academy of Vocal Arts, Goodhart Hall at Bryn Maw College, November 18, 2014
Rossini, La scala di seta and Puccini, Gianni Schicchi. Curtis Opera Theater at the Prince Music Theater, Philadelphi, November 21, 2014.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
When a media circus gathers around a performance, or a film, or an artwork, the eventual performance often fails to equal the furor that preceded it. “That’s it?” someone ends up asking. But the opposite happened at The Death of Klinghoffer: the protest was zealous but the work emerged wiser and braver than I thought it would be. This was the most intense performance I’ve ever seen at the Met, almost a tinderbox. But the opera itself, despite its unevenness and a production which, in some respects, troubled me, is far more than invective.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Sunday, October 05, 2014
|Contrary to appearances, not a Herheim production|
Check it out here. The streaming series will continue with The Makropulos Case on November 1.
Photo copyright Bayerische Staatsoper
Posted by Micaela at 9:33 AM