Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Carmen est un oiseau rebele

Today we were able to see the Met’s new Carmen in a new production staged Richard Eyre with sets designed by Rob Howell and costumes by Irene Bohan. This production is a welcomed changed from the Zefirelli production for 10 years ago that simply was just ugly. The opera, updated to sometime around the 40s is still very traditional and the stage machinery is used to create locales within a unit set. I know a lot has been said about the production already and many people have come against it because it is too traditional. To those who are pulling their hair because the Met again put out another traditional production I want to remind that the reggie movement now 20-30 years old in Europe (some would say that it started with Wieland Wagner and thus is 50 years old already)  and therefore these kind of productions are not avant garde or provocative anymore. In truth, they are now the new “traditional” productions over there; add the fact that even after these many years, audiences still reject them soundly and you are not going to get too much pity from me. So, in my opinion, cry all you want, bad art might be art, but it is still bad and some things do not need to be imported. So take what I say with a grain of salt, if you are expecting the Met to “finally” take on the reggie productions that have been all  the rage (in both senses) in Europe, then you are going to hate this new Carmen. I fucking loved it.

Now that you have sat through my little moment, I do want to say to those who feel like me, RUN to get your ticket. The sets and the costume design is truly inspired at times. I would say that this production of Carmen improved 100% on the old Zefirelli production. If you are in NYC, or planning a visit, this is the one production this year that I think you should not miss. Truly amazing stuff in my opinion.

I’m going to start with the chorus and the orchestra because I am starting to sound like a broken record: these people can do no wrong. The orchestra sounded amazing! They were sensitive to the singing and their playing made as much impact as the singing upstairs. Same thing for the chorus: are these people capable of poor singing? I believe not. (Angela, you looked amazing by the way). This chorus is such an improvement from the chorus from 10 years ago it is amazing to believe they are from the same institution. Congratulations to the Met for getting themselves one hell of a chorus, I hope you treat those people with as much respect and defference then you treat your soloist, because they are making your starts look a lot better than what (sometimes) they are. Bravi to all, and a big bravo to maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who conducted with the energy of a 20 year older.  The orchestra responded to his fast tempos and the score had an energy and thrust that I had not heard in a while. Yes, some people will say that he conducted like he needed to go pee (or worse), but you know? Carmen the opera  is like having sex, sometimes you do need to do it fast and hard. Bravo maestro; bravi tutti!

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When this production was announced my first reaction was these guys are doing Carmen without a Carmen, and then Gheorghiu threw her little shit fit, walked out like the spoiled brat she is said to be and opened the door for Elina Garanca. I listened to the performance on opening night via the Met’s free webcasts and I was not hopeful. Her take on the character was described and an ice queen and the performance didn’t sound idiomatic to me. I am happy to say that I have been won over by Garanca as Carmen, hell, not only was I won over but even my friend Ronizetti (who hates Carmen with a passion) did say that she was a fantastic Carmen. No, the performance was still not idiomatic, there were things here and there, but as I said elsewhere, those are things that come with time and experience, so I’m not going to mull over them. What I’ll say first is that none of the alleged ice queen business was in evidence, at least not to me.  She had the passion and the fire in her to do justice to the role, I simply did not see her Carmen as being icy, except in some sections when her treatment of Don Jose needed to be.  Her Habanera had enough sex appeal to be convincing, her Seguidille (unfortunately) missed the mark in the fact that it was much too direct. I missed the inner play, the innuendo and the teasing that could make this piece sparkle with sexual energy. Garanca’s Carmen seemed to come from a place of anger, she seemed more a caged lion than a caged bird. Garanca’s  Carmen was strong, free willed and not about to be bullied. This Carmen certainly packed a punch. Act 2 and 3 found Garanca doing some fine singing and some dancing as well, as her Carmen faced the situations, she hardened her stance and got nastier. I will not say that I agree with everything she did, but I did find her interpretation valid; Garanca certainly thought things through and created a character that was true to herself and her interpretation of her personality.  Act 4 found Garanca rivaling Ponselle as one of the sexiest Carmens in Met history. To say she looked amazing in that dress is to put it mildly. That dress, in my opinion is as amazing as the mythic Valentina dress that Ponselle wore and just as sexy. Ultimately, her Carmen was phenomenal, with enough spunk and Mediterranean flavor to please me and turn me into a convert. Brava.

Roberto Alagna (the only principal of the original cast to actually make it to today’s performance) was a magnificent foil to Garanca’s Carmen. His voice might be a tad light for the role, but he used it intelligently and passionately; ultimately giving us a Jose full of passion and pain. One thing that I also liked about him was his attention to the small moments in the drama. He remained  a committed Jose to the end. His singing showed moments of strain, something that I have come to expect from him. What I didn’t expect was for him to sing the Flower aria so well (and ellegantly), and include the pianissimo Bb. Now, I’m guessing he wanted to create an excuse for the shortness of his Bb (not that he needed, I thought the aria was executed beautifully) by saying that the Bb is actually not written piano but that everyone expects it that way and so on and so forth. I must say that I do not buy it; and I don’t buy it because 1) Alagna correctly pointed out that the orchestra is marked to play piano at this moment. What? did Bizet asked the orchestra to play piano so the tenor could wail that Bb like a calf missing his mother? and 2) There is a long tradition of French tenors singing these passages in voix mixte (some people call it falsetto, call it however you want it) and many French composers wrote passages just like this one in their operas so their tenors could showcase their expertise in voix mixte (Gounod and Massenet come to mind immediately).  As a French tenor, Alagna should know the history of French style, specially when it comes to his voice type. There was no need for Mr. Alagna to feel that he needed to excuse anything about his singing of the aria. Latter on, as the role got heavier, signs of strain did become more visible, but his commitment never wavered. Ultimately his Jose was not an over-sized hero, but more a human being.  I have seen Mr. Alagna in several roles, this is by far the best I have seen him sing in a while.

As Escamillo, we were expecting Mariusz Kwiecien (or the Hot Pole as he is known in certain circles) and we got Teddy Tahu Rhodes (or Teddy Bear as he has admitted he is called).  I have to say that the casting of  Mariusz puzzled me, not because he doesn’t have the physique du role, but because I see him as a Mozart baritone, more at home as the sexy Don Giovanni, Count Almaviva and Guglielmo. I see his voice as much too light for a role that is better served with a bass-baritone. Teddy Bear not only saved the day, but proved that he can be every bit the sexy Escamillo we were expecting and probably better suited vocally to the role. Yes, there was a troubling loss of focus in some of the extreme high notes on the role (let’s hope it was a case of nerves and not that he is trying to beef up the sound) but for the most part Teddy Bear was more than just a satisfactory replacement on the role; he packed his own brand of heat and I loved every second of it too.

I wish I could be so enthusiastic about Barbara Frittoli as Micaela, and believe me, I am up to a certain point. This role is usually cast with young up and comers and it is easily dismissed as a complete bore. The Met has a strong tradition of casting the role with veritable stars and excellent singers as well: Licia Albanese, Lucine Amara, Mirella Freni, Hei-Kyung Hong, Gheorghiu, Pilar Lorengar, Leona Mitchell, Katherine Malfitano, Katia Riciarelli are just a few of the names associated with the role at the Met. The casting of Frittoli as Micaela is not a strange one at the Met and certainly the role is withing the scope of her voice and her abilities. I’ll do you one better and say it is a blessing to see her singing repertoire that suits her voice better than all the Verdi she has been singing elsewhere. The problem is that apparently all that Verdi that has made her a star is catching up to her. She sounded effort-full (as opposed to effortless) and some of the higher passages had a hint of a wobble. Elsewhere, she was a fragile looking and shy Micaela. Her acting was never less that perfect for the character. Frittoli certainly understands what motivates Micaela and presented a role that made me love her, but her singing was not at the same level as her acting. I hope Frittoli will get back to her bread and butter roles (NOT heavy Verdi for sure) and fix the warning signs before it is too late and we are left to lament how such a wonderful singer squandered her talents singing repertoire that ended up costing her too much.

As always, the Met cast the small but incredibly important roles of Frasquita, Mercédès, Remendado, Dancaïre, Zuniga and Moralès from strength. In these roles Elizabeth Caballero (Frasquita), Sandra Piques Eddy (Mercédès), Keith Jameson (Remendado), Earle Patriarco (Dancaïre), Keith Miller (Zuniga) and Trevor Scheunemann (Moralès) showed that these roles need great artists as much as the principal roles or else the opera looses its balance; they all sang and acted amazingly well.  It was such a joy to hear the High C during the Toreador song executed perfectly and without strain. I want to also mention the 2nd act quintet and the Card scene as veritable highlights of the show and they were, no doubt, thanks to their participation. Bravi to all these artists.

It sounds bitchy that after all these compliments I should start complaining, but the fact is that there was one thing that truly bothered me about this Carmen: the edition. I believe the Met has the coaching resources and the clout to present operas in better editions and it is the 2nd time this season that they chose to show an opera in a questionable edition. There is no reason that I can think of for the Met to still be using those damn recitatives they should have gotten rid of 20 years ago. In 1996 they could blame Zefirelli and his dislike of Waltraud Meier and his opinion that her French sucked to go back to the recits. In 2010, what is their excuse? They no longer have Zefirelli and his bitching to blame. Certainly these are artists who have proved a certain affinity for the language, with one of them being a French native.  Moreover, this cast has remained mostly unchanged since the production was first announced, so what is the problem? Why can’t the Met bring themselves to do a Carmen as it was intended, with dialog. They could certainly not blame acoustics as they have very good acoustics, have done the show with dialog before and they also have a state of the art sound system that could be used to amplify the spoken voices and bring some relief to the artists. I certainly do not see a reason for some of the ugly transitions and bad story telling that I saw today. Let me give you an example:

Between the entrance of Remendado & Dancaïre in Act 2 and the quintet a couple of pages latter there is a certain amount of information that is provided that serves as a springboard for the quintet. Remendado and Dancaïre just came back from Gibraltar where they bought some merchandise and they were being expected at Lillas Pastia by Carmen, Mercédès and Frasquita, who are in cohorts with them to smuggle the goods. If you watched the Met’s Carmen today, you were not provided this info and were lead to believe that Remendado and Dancaïre are just a pair of bullies that showed up and slapped Mercédès and Frasquita into submission given the intense fear the 2 ladies had to show due to the lack of background. Not only was the information not provided, there was an ugly cut as well that made the quintet come out of nowhere and the interactions between the characters seem forced and artificial. Was this necessary? I mean, Truly? I applaud the Met for striving to provide productions that are strong, with good singers and actors; but when they package these elements in poorly wrapped musical editions they are still doing the singers, audience and the composers a disservice. Time to join the XXIst century kiddos… There is not need for audiences to have to suffer through the Giraud-composed recits anymore.

Carmen plays in the theaters again in an encore presentation, so check your local movie theaters for the information. The next HD presentation will be Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra on Frebruary 6. This promises to be quite interesting as it has Placido Domingo singing the baritone role of Boccanegra in a first for the opera and the Met. Like it or not, don’t miss it. I’ve been lead to believe it will be an interesting afternoon.

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January 16, 2010 Posted by | Opera Review | , , | Leave a comment

Rosenkavalier in HD

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Today, like every Saturday during broadcast season, was opera Saturday; add the fact that it was an HD simulcast and I was exited, add to that the fact that I had never seen Rosenkavalier from start to finish and I could not contain myself. As a strong bel canto lover, XXth century opera and music does not come easy to me and Strauss (and for that matter, Wagner) have been composers that have taken some time for me to warm up to them. As a matter of fact, about a year and a half ago, I attemped to watch the opera on a fantastic DVD from the Salzburg production with Anna Tomowa-Sintow (a soprano I adore) and I made it all the way to about half of Act 2 before I lost interest. I knew I was not ready and decided to put it away and l come back to the opera when I felt like I was mature enough in my tastes. This time I knew I was ready.

Let’s start with the actual production. The Merril production with sets by Robert O’Hearn debuted on Jan 23, 1969 and has been a staple of the Met ever since. O’Hearn’s sumptuous sets and costumes have hosted a myriad of Octavians, Marschallins, Ochs, and Sophies. The HD cameras were not consistently flattering to the sets,unfortunately. Yes, the design is just marvelous and they still retain some of their beauty, but they are starting to show the wear and tear of 40 years of storage, travel to and from the house, settings and strikes (not the labor kind). I thank the Met for preserving the sets once again on video after 20 years, but the production as it stands really can not take another coat of paint. I think it is time to either replace the production or do a rebuild from scratch. Unlike other opera fanatics, I see the use and beauty of traditional productions and understand if the Met were to keep this beautiful work of art, but can you imagine another 10-15 years of wear and tear on this production and it being showed again in a medium that would be even more detailed (and unforgiving) than HD?

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I make no secret of the fact that Renee Fleming has been a continued source of frustration and disappointment for me over the last 5-8 years.  Her ghastly bel canto assumptions have ruined several of my nights and the absence of Mozart in her schedule is specially frustrating given how much his music suits her voice. That being said I must admit that I am about to fall over offering the same tired superlatives that her most adoring fans use when referring to her.  This woman had no issues passing for someone nearly 20 years her junior. Her singing was solid, ravishing even, her musicality impeccable and her tendency to pull musical phrases like they are toffee all but gone. In other words, she was (for this picky reviewer at least) the embodiment of perfection in this role. Hardly have I ever left a theater (or in this case a movie theater) feeling that a performance I witnessed could not be bettered in one way or another. Yes, I could quibble about this or that gesture, or a way of handling a musical phrase, but in the end I was left convinced that Renee Fleming is capable of inhabiting the world of the Marschallin.  I understand how people who grew up with Schwartzkopf’s, Rysanek’s and the many wonderful Marschallins  that have graced this opera would complain about Fleming’s interpretation.  Having never experience any of the mythic Marschallins, I was able to come to Renee Fleming’s interpretation of the role with an open mind. I did not mind her impetuousness in the role, or her movements, or her perceived lack of regal bearing in the role. Seeing it for the first time, I can see a Marschallin who is younger and probably not all that far removed from the country, wide-eyed girl that was fooled into this life of seclusion.  This interpretation might not work for some people, but it worked for me; I found it possible and believable.

Susan Graham as Octavian was less successful in making this reviewer suspend belief but I do not see her as her fault. HD is not kind to anyone who does not have perfect physique (or age) du role. I am sure given some space, her interpretation worked just wonderfully. I should have not expected to suspend belief when we have a lady in her 40s portraying a 17 year old boy with an HD camera basically mounted of her back.  With that in mind, her acting was wonderful, even when scrutinized at levels that would make some of us scream sexual harassment.  Her singing showed some effort in the upper reaches, but how could you be surprised?, Octavian is basically a soprano role. That notwithstanding, she conquered the role once again and showed why she is one of the most celebrated Octavians of her generations. We should feel lucky that her Octavian has been preserved along those of Anne Sofie von Otter, Tatiana Troyanos and Brigitte Fassbender. Overall, I believe that Susan Graham was a lot more effective in the house than she was for the camera and ultimtely that is exactly where it counts. Brava.

It took me a moment to warm up to Christine Schäfer’s Sophie. Some people will call her miscast in the role and I will not dispute the experts. The presentation of the rose found me wishing the Met had given us Lisette Oropesa in the role instead. Schäfer at first sounded a little too mature and knowing for the role; I missed the silvery top that has come to epitomize this role and the piece.  Had Schäfer’s recent adventures in heavier repertoire (Violetta, Donna Anna, Konstanze) rendered her too mature for this fresh-out-or-the-convent little girl? As the opera progressed I was able to believe her as a 15 year old girl and appreciated what she brought to the role. Through out the opera her character grew in standing and her singing demonstrated the qualities of a once fabulous Sophie who can still bring it home; and that is nothing to scoff about. Her singing of the trio was beautiful and the final duet with Graham was ravishing. Would I have preferred to see Oropesa or Mia Persson? Sure! But I no longer lament the fact that we got Christine Schäfer. At least Mia’s Sophie is preserved on a performance from Salzburg in 2004 and it is not too late for Oropesa to be cast in a production somewhere and have her Sophie preserved on video as well.

Acting honors for the performance, the women I hope will agree, have to go to Kristinn Sigmundsson as Baron Ochs. Jesus, Mary and Joseph what a piece of acting this man did! As the chaos around him got bigger and his behavior nastier I just wanted to jump in the screen and put one of the swords through him myself. Kristinn Sigmundsson’s Ochs was everything any production could wish for; he was an absolute chauvinist pig! His behavior was so reprehensible I was feeling embarrassed for him and was delighted when he was shamed into submission and retreat. I know it is a source of joy for any performer to render an audience member incapable of differentiating between reality and fantasy. Kristinn Sigmundsson did exactly that today and he should revel in that knowledge. Vocally the role of Baron Ochs is a bear. It is composed in a weird place: too high for a true bass, but with notes that baritones and Bass-baritones could find too low (it reaches down to a low C in act 1 and low Eb E in act 2). The problem with a role like this is that short of a true vocal freak, you have to decide whether to cast a singer that can rock the low notes that end 2 separate acts but would struggle with the upper notes or cast a singer who can manage the high tessitura and compromise a little on the low notes. Kristinn Sigmundsson is on the latter category, and I found the compromise just fine. I would rather hear a singer struggle with a low note than with high ones. Mr. Sigmundsson had no issues with the higher passages and while his low notes were not booming in a way that we’ve come to expect from, say, a Sparafucile, he did not embarrassed himself either.  When the dust settled, if there was one performer standing victorious on the stage today, that was Mr. Sigmundsson, hands down.

As his father in law, the recently ennobled Faninal, we had the pleasure of having Thomas Allen. This former count Almaviva and Don Giovanni is still going strong in the sunset years of his career. Not only was his singing a marvel of beauty, his characterization as the father desperately to fit in with his recent “equals” was all in itself at the same level of Sigmundsson’s. If Sigmundsson’s Ochs was the noble who is too broke, or cheap to admit it, Allen was the commoner all to rich to let that go to waste and they would have made a perfect pair.  I kept thinking that if this was Broadway, they should have encored the White Christmas number Sisters and walked arm in arm at the end.

I think one of the glories of what I hope will be an eventual DVD release of this performance is the many wonderful singers cast in the smaller parts. There was such a plethora of them, it will be impossible to name them all, yet is seems offensive that I do not try, they all seemed like luxury casting to me. There were so many wonderful artists on stage that it was hard to keep up, and the enjoyment their solid performances brought was a lot indeed. I think place of honor must go to Wendy White as Annina, Rodell Rosel as Valzacchi and Erica Strauss as Marianne, they were perfection in their roles. Not only was the singing solid as a rock, they inhabited their roles with energy and conviction. The Met is very lucky to have artists of such caliber to cast in these roles.  The same must be said about the contributions made by Bernard Fitch  and Ronald Naldi as the Major-domos, James Courtney as the Notary, Belinda Oswald, Lee Hamilton and Patricia Steiner as the 3 Orphans and Jeremy Galyon as Police Commissioner, their parts might’ve been small, but their presence and artistry loomed large on that stage. Bravi to all.

I wish I could be just as enthusiastic about Eric Cutler’s Italian singer. He got through the piece unscathed, no mean feat given how easily you can crack on it (Go ahead, click the link and watch what happens between minute markers 4:25-4:30) there was something in his singing that left me cold. I can appreciate the fact that he walked in a sort of vocal tight rope and came out the other side with no bruises, but at the same time I expected more bloom and less metal in this aria. The other thing that bothered me about his performance was his characterization.  In this role it is too easy to turn into the typical tenor and give the international sign for va fan culo on the way out. Easy as we might find it, I think it needs to be avoided given the fact that exhibiting such behavior would have found you in deep do-do faster than you can close your score. Add to that the fact that if this had been 100% representative of the historical period (the madrigal singer in act 2 of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut for example) , it would have been a castrato singing the piece and a young castrato would have not behaved in such reprehensible manner in front of the same nobility whose support he sought. Congratulations to Mr. Cutler on getting through the piece, I think he is owed at least that.

Conductor Edo de Waart brought his considerable experience in this opera (He conducts the recording with Evelyn Lear and Frederica von Stade). The orchestra played magnificently and the chorus (surprise, surprise…) could not have sung better. Overall, I don’t think this production could have been in better hands.

If you missed it, check your local movie theater for an encore and try to get to it; I have no doubts you’ll enjoy the performance as much as I did.

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Opera Review | , , | 1 Comment

An even better Hoffmann

Today the Metropolitan Opera showcased their new Hoffmann on movie theaters across the world. While the show is basically the same that I reviewed just a couple of weeks ago, this time there are 2 elements that are different: the artists have had a chance to rest and we now have added the visual elements to the production.

The production, by Bartlett Sher with sets by Michael Yeargan and costumes by designer Catherine Zuber promised a lot more than it delivered.  Much was made of the whole Jewishness of Hoffmann and his struggles as a Jew in a non-Jew world; very little was delivered in bringing that aspect to our eyes. Maybe it is me, but we see a lot of these concepts on paper, and the directors talk a great game, but when it is time to bring it on, they fall far short of all the conceptual ideas they so loved to talk about. That been said, even if Sher failed to show a Jewishness to this opera what he did deliver was quite good. His stage direction was direct and for the most part free of directorial “look what I can do” concepts that so many directors use to call attention to themselves.  Michael Yeargan and Catherine Zuber created sets and costumes that were both practical and beautiful to look at (again for the most part). In my opinion, Zuber was the most successful of the 3; her costume designs were stunning.

As Hoffmann Joseph Calleja acquitted himself quite well. This role is the Tristan of Lyric Tenors. I have seen several tenors crash and burn by the 3rd act because the role requires almost superhuman stamina. Calleja was able not only to make it through to the end (no mean feat all in itself) but do it with still plenty of voice left. I bet he will spend the rest of the night soaking in a bath. Vocally the role is probably a tad too big for him right now, but Mr. Calleja proved that he is an intelligent artist by managing his resources quite well. His prelude had the necessary mad energy that Hoffmanns need, his 1st act showed him to be quite the lover, and while the 2nd (and 3rd) act taxed him a little bit, he still sang with passion and great tone. His intonation never faltered and his French could use some work, specially since he has a very Gallic vibrato. This is a voice that will grow into this kind of repertoire and will do it well. Thank God we have someone who can take the mantle of Kraus in this role; we have been missing someone like this. Let’s hope that he will get to Paris soon and coach his French style and diction. We finally have a tenor who can sing the French rep and do it well.

Kate Lidsey as the Muse/Nicklausse improved over the opening night’s broadcast. I find her voice a little uninteresting and her French, while not embarrassing, is not a model to live by. For some reason, after it was all said and done, I was left with the impression of the whole being lesser than the sum of its parts. Could it be that Nicklausse is just not a role that showcases Ms. Lindsey to her best advantage? She didn’t do a bad job, in fact, I think she gave it a good shot and sang well, but somehow still failed to get me exited. Her voice seemed a more natural fit for Mozart. Maybe she would be a better Idamante, Cherubino, Annio and Dorabella. As Niclause she just left me cold.

Kathleen Kim’s Olympia was a huge success. On my review of  Dec 4th I said that she failed to make an impression; boy did she make one today. The voice was limpid and the stress on her high notes was all but gone. Her Olympia was cute, perky and adorable. As a singer, her coloratura was accurate and her trill secure. I am inclined to say that her poor showing on opening night might have something to do with exhaustion, because she sounded fabulous today. My friend Ronizetti, who was in the house reported to me that he heard hints of vintage Pons, no small compliment coming from him. The one misfire I found in her interpretation was actually in her staging. Her jumping like a spoiled brat broke her legato and made her voice heavy and the production labored (In my review of opening night I said that she was unable to cope with some of the demands of the role: the coloratura was labored…) Today I realized that the problem was those jumps getting on the way. I also found her doll movements to get a little repetitive, more work is needed on those to make them more fluid and marry then to the wonderful singing she gave us today. One last comment, and this one is a matter of personal taste: Ms. Kims ornamentation was wonderful. Still, I found it a little repetitive and (strange for me) excessive. May I suggest working with a different coach?, get a fresh set of ears on it and see what works, what doesn’t and what can be changed or deleted.  Artists should have the liberty to continue experimenting with the music they sing, and Olympia’s aria is fertile ground for that. Brava Ms. Kim, You were the best of all the female singers today. You impressed a very tough dog, make that 2 of them.

Anna Netrebko as Antonia failed to impress me. Now, while that should not come as a surprise to anyone, I will say that her Antonia is a vast improvement over her recent assignments at the Met. Her Elle a fui, la tourterelle was well sung, but just that. What I continue to find lacking in her performance is a forward placement to her voice.  The voice continues to move farther from the mask and in its journey away, it prevents Ms. Netrebko to give us singing that is firmly based on the text; and that brings me to my next complaint: Ms. Netrebko’s French continues to elude me. Acquaintances and people whose opinion I value keep telling me her French as improved over the Juliettes from several years ago. If that is the case, kudos to Ms. Netrebko for improving her French; but let’s not get carried away, her French is in desperate need of continued work. Hopefully as she works on her French, she might also find a way to bring the voice to a brighter and more forward placement, as French singing and style requires the voice to stay very forward so the vowels and nasals can be done accurately and fast. The one wonderful aspect about her Antonia was her acting. Yes, she is famous for her acting, although she is certainly not the first soprano who is famous for her beauty, her acting skills and the beauty of the voice (Moffo anyone?). She created an Antonia that was strong and vulnerable at the same time (if such a thing is possible). If her singing was not up to par to her acting, she still gets credit for the great piece of acting she did today. Now girl, get to your voice teacher and fix some things…

This moviecast gave us a chance to see a side of Ms. Netrebko that the public usually does not get to see. I have to say one was quite charming while the other one left me scratching my head. Fans of the blog This is photobomb will know what I am refering to. At the end of the 1st intermission, while Debby Voigt interviewed Bartlett Sher, we saw Anna Netrebko officially do the Met’s most funny video bomb in HD history.  We saw her stretch and dance while Sher remained either unaware of what was going on behind him or trying to maintain composure. Her interview with Voigt was a disaster of epic proportions. She started well with her incredibly kind words about Calleja but things deteriorated quickly when she was unable or unwilling to answer other questions (say it girl, Antonia might be a short role, but she is a bitch to sing) and while doing so left Voigt scrambling. Her handling of the 2nd question might be open to interpretation. Netrebko said she was exited about wearing real chinchilla on stage and Voigt’s face was worth a million. When Voigt corrected her and said that the chinchilla was not real, Netrebko with a straight face corrected her and said that it was indeed the real thing. While I am sure the comment will make the rounds and much will be made about this (God help the Met if PETA gets a hold of this. Pamela Anderson organizing a protest in front of the Met) I am not sure it will all be 100% deserved. While it is true that many Americans feel that fur coats are inhuman and a poor use of our resources (and let’s not even touch the many species now in the brink of extinction), as La Cieca reminded us in her site, Netrebko IS NOT American and therefore her views and values on the matter are completely different. Rather than focusing on a perceived faux pas, I will chalk it up to a cultural difference. I am happy to say, I would rather wear a fake or a recycled/re-cut vintage fur than buying a new one; but Netrebko is entitled to her opinion, no matter how misguided I believe it is.  What I can not get over is how poor an interviewee she was. I felt horrible for Ms. Voigt.

The Giulietta of Ekaterina Gubanova was a puzzle to me. Not only was her singing unsophisticated and incredibly un-sexy. Her casting, to start with, should be raising brows. Yes, she is a woman of undeniable beauty but with the recent (if by recent you mean something like 10 years ago at least) discoveries of Hoffmann scores dating to the time of composition no longer support the continued tradition of casting a mezzo soprano as Giulietta. Having 2 mezzos singing the Belle nuit is boring and in today’s case not very pretty. Having a high voice and a lower one in the duet (as opposed to 2 low voices where one happens to be singing higher) balances the sonorities much better than what we were given today; plus Ms. Gubanova’s voice didn’t blend all that well with Ms. Lindsey’s.  Overall, the Giulietta act sported what was probably the best set design, the best costumes and the least interesting singing of the entire show.

As Lindorf, Coppélius, Dappertutto & Dr. Miracle, the 4 villains and Hofmman’s nemesis, the Met brought Alan Held; a veteran of more than 10 productions of Hoffmann. I have to say Mr. Held looked incredibly sexy as the villains (What is going on? Is the Met moving into casting sexy bears as villains these days?).  While his singing showed poise and commitment, his voice showed a lack of a secure top and lack of luster in the bottom register. This was truly a shame, as Mr. Held’s middle voice  is in perfect shape and it has some interesting colors. His acting, like his middle register was never anything less than secure. Overall, I think he acquitted himself with these roles.

In the 4 comic roles of Andrès, Cochenille,Pitichinaccio and Frantz, Alan Oke shone bright. He showed perfect comic timing, incredible stage presence and commitment. He also showed exactly what he (as Franz) lamented he didn’t have: technique. The mezza voce that he sang in the 1st verse of the aria, and the crescendo that he added was impeccably executed. As far as I am concerned he stole the show right out from Netrebko with his perfectly executed Jour et nuit je me mets en quatre. When this production is released on DVD, and I hope it is, this will be the interpretation to watch. Perfection in every sense.

Other small roles were also cast from strength. Dean Peterson as Luther, Rodell Rosel’s Nathanael, Mark Schowalter’s Spalanzani and Michael Todd Simpson in his dual assignments of Hermann and Schlemil all sang with great assurance and showed plenty of stage presence; specially Michael Todd Simpson who proved to be a sexier than usual Schlemil. I will say to the powers that be that more stage rehearsal is needed for his duel with Hoffmann. They both looked clumsy in it, but that can be resolves very easily. The chorus, as usual, continues to gather more than exceptional notices in this blog. The orchestra sounded terrific under the baton of James Levine.

As enjoyable as the show was, I do have to take exception to the poor job the Met has done by Offenbach and Hoffmann. They failed to stage a true representation of Offenbach’s Hoffmann. As pointed out earlier,  the past decade has seen a discovery of material closer to the composition and premiere time. While it can not be said that it is exactly what Offenbach would have wanted, surely it is closer to it than the musicological mess the Met put on this afternoon. Surely at this point it has been determined that several of the compromises Choudens and Oezer had to make are no longer sustainable or excusable.  Yes, the cast has seen more changes than a busy dryer has seen socks, but if the Met had the time to teach Calleja the role from scratch (a proposition so daunting it would make the tenor and the coaching staff run for the Prozac), I am sure a better job could be done in presenting a more faithful version of the score.  Presenting a completely new edition with the many changes the  cast has seen is, I know, unrealistic, but an effort should have been made to present a more faithful edition within the time constraints.  If this were not possible, then a compromise should have been reached to postpone the HD transmission to a time when a cast could be assembled and coached in a better edition of the score; this was done for Hildegard Behrens’ Elektra after all… That epilogue seemed to go on for days, and the music was not all that interesting, to say the least.

The next HD presentation (save for encores of Hoffmann) will be Robert O’Hearn’s sumptuous Rosenkavalier on Jan 9th with Renee Fleming, Susan Graham and Christine Schäfer. They recently posted pictures of the cast here, take a look at this beautiful production and buy your tickets ASAP.

December 20, 2009 Posted by | Opera Review | , | 9 Comments