Sunday, November 30, 2008

TRISTAN UND ISOLDE at the Metropolitan Opera

Sam Shirakawa has been to the Opening Night of the Met's run of Tristan und Isolde:

28 November 2008

A surprise saved Friday night's season premiere of Tristan und Isolde at the Met from terminal boredom:

René Pape has sung King Mark over a dozen times at the Met, and it would seem that he's old news. He is still too young for the part, but surprisingly, he is even more astonishing every time you hear him, and he turned out to be the glue that held a patchy performance together.

Headlining the new news, of course, was the house debut of Daniel Barenboim. It seems he's performed everywhere, except at the Met. He has recorded Tristan commercially, and numerous live performances and broadcasts of his forays into the work can be found on tape.

Remember that sampling of his way with Tristan back in 1989, when he assembled Hildegarde Behrens, Gary Lakes and L'Orchestre de Paris for a concert version of Act Two at Avery Fisher Hall?

If you don't remember, that may be the key to the disappointment I, at least, felt at Friday's performance. That long ago performance was not memorable, and neither was Friday night's.

Forget about those knee-jerk complaints that may come up: the orchestra was too loud, the sound synthesis was overly brass heavy, the textural contrasts were exaggerated. These are all signature characteristics of the Barenboim-the-Conductor brand. A lot of people love it and buy it, especially on CD where digital technology can produce aural miracles that have little to do with the source material. But no filter except denial can disguise the zits, warts and whoopsy-daisies exposing themselves mercilessly within the real-time exigencies of a live performance. On Friday, there was plenty of rhythmic smudging among the singers and vast stretches of listlessness that prevented the performance from taking off or shaping up into an organic whole. This, despite the Met orchestra playing as though its life depended on it. [During rehearsals several orchestra members commented on how exited they were to work with Barenboim.] Fabulous as the Met Orchestra always is, and no-less so for the wonderful English Horn solo by Pedro R. Diaz, it was left to Pape to provide rescue and respite.

Evidence of the Gestalt that Friday's performance was producing could best be seen in the droves of people departing, even during the first intermission. Does this say more about the departed than about brand DB? Barenboim brings them in, oh yes, but for those many who left, it apparently was not a night to remember.

Barenboim was not entirely to blame, unless he approved the casting, which he almost certainly must have. After all, he led the opera just two months ago with three of the principals -- Katarina Dalayman, Michelle DeYoung and Gerd Grochowski -- at Berlin's Staatsoper unter den Linden, where he is Music Director. (And another lead singer in that short string of performances is also in town at the moment.)

Let's face it folks: Dalayman is at best a B-line Isolde. Despite some attractive singing in the softer passages of the second act love duet, she failed to summon mortal rage in the cursing climax of the Narrative and delivered a diffident Liebestod. Her top notes were squally, her middle range middling, and her lower register thin. Dalayman was a laudable Brangaene when she made her Met debut in 1999, and I marveled at her Lisa in Pique Dame in Munich several years ago. Net-net though: Katya Darling, Isolde is not the way to go.

Peter Seiffert as Tristan is an appealing Wagner tenor and an effective stage personality, but he is developing a worrisome beat in his voice -- which also is showing signs of wear. He tired toward the end of his third act delirium. A few seasons ago, he sang one of the finest Tannhäusers that the Met has heard since the opera was revived in 1976. Why is he now palpably ruining his voice?

Michelle de Young reprises her well-received Brangaene from last season. She is one of the Met's brightest young singers, and she might well take a hard look at Dalayman's misstep in considering what roles she would be ill-advised to undertake.

Gerd Grochowski made an objection-free debut as Kurwenal. Stephen Gaertner was a serviceable Melot.

While Barenboim deservedly has won acclaim for his Wagner, I have always thought his true life resides at the piano. He is scheduled to perform Liszt's operatic transcriptions at the Met on 14 December. Now THAT should be a treat.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Live Offerings - Saturday, November 22, 2008 - PART II

More live offerings this afternoon:

  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Opéra Garnier in Paris, Smetana's The Bartered Bride, with Oleg Bryjak, Pippa Longworth, Christiane Oelze, Stefan Kocán, Helene Schneiderman, Christoph Homberger, Ales Briscein, Franz Hawlata, Heinz Zednik, Amanda Squitieri and Ugo Rabec, conducted by Jirí Belohlávek.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - From Theater an der Wien, a November 13th performance of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, with Toby Spence, Alastair Miles, Adriana Kucerova, Manfred Hemm, Anne Sofie von Otter, Carole Wilson and Gerhard Siegel, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
  • Espace 2 - Yet another chance to hear the historic Met broadcast of Beethoven's Fidelio from January 22, 1966, with Birgit Nilsson, James King, Otto Edelmann, Geraint Evans, Mary Ellen Pracht, Charkes Anthony and Sherrill Milnes, conducted by Karl Böhm.
  • Klara - Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, with Anja Van Engeland, Tijl Faveyts, Ivan Ludlow, Thomas Oliemans, Sara Fulgoni, Lien Hageman and Liesbeth Devos, conducted by Elgar Howarth.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, Puccini's La Boheme, with Cristina Gallardo Domas, Viktoria Yastrebova, Massimiliano Pisapia, Luca Salsi, José Fardilha, Arutjun Kotchinian and Angelo Casertano, conducted by Daniel Oren.
  • WDAV - From NPR World of Opera, Handel's Tamerlano from Washington National Opera, with Placido Domingo; David Daniels, Sarah Coburn, Patricia Bardon, Claudio Huckle and Andrew Foster Williams, conducted by William Lacey.

Happy listeing....

Live Offerings - Saturday, November 22, 2008 - PART I

Starting at Noon EST:
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - Live from Goteborg opera, Puccini's La Boheme, with Helena Juntunen, Rodolfo - Bülent Bezdüz, Fredrik Zetterström, Henriikka Gröndahl, Markus Schwartz and Kosma Ranuer, conducted by Pietro Rizzi.
Starting at 1:00PM EST:

  • BBC 3 - Live from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Rossini's Matilde di Shabran, with Juan Diego Florez, Carlo Lepore, Marco Vinco, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Vesselina Kasarova, Enkelejda Shkosa, Bryan Secombe, Mark Beesley and Robert Anthony Gardiner, conducted by Carlo Rizzi.
  • CBC Two - A Puccini double bill: From Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Turandot, with Andrea Gruber, Marco Spotti, Fabio Armiliato, Aldo Bottion, Norah Amsellem, Giorgio Caoduro, Aldo Orsolini, Stefano Pisani and Andrea Porta, condcuted by Pinchas Steinberg; and from Opera Australia, Gianni Schicchi, with Jonathan Summers, Hye Seoung Kwon, Henry Choo, Elizabeth Campbell, Graeme Macfarlane, Teresa La Rocca, Daniel Verschuer, Shane Lowrencev, Stephen Bennett, Luke Gabbedy, Sharon Prero, Richard Alexander, Andrew Moran, Tom Hamilton and Jonathan McCauley, conducted by Andrea Licata.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Teatro Regio in Turin, an October 9th performance of Cherubini's Medea, with Anna Caterina Antonacci,
  • Giuseppe Sabbatici, Sara Mingardo, Giovanni Battista Parodi, Cinzia Forte, Erika Grimaldi and Diego Matamoros, conducted by Evelino Pidò.
  • DR P2 & Dwojke Polskie Radio - Live from English National Opera, Berstein's Candide, with oby Spence, Alex Jennings, Marnie Breckenridge, Beverley Klein and Mairéad Buicke, conducted by Rumon Gamba.
  • Espace Musique - From l'Opéra de Montréal, Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, with Karina Gauvin, Antonio Figueroa, Philip Addis and Alexandre Sylvestre, conducted by Frédéric Chaslin.
  • KBYU - From this past summer's Bayreuth Festival, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From Nationale Reisopera, Jeths's Hôtel de Pékin, with Marie Angel, Dennis Wilgenhof, Mattijs van de Woerd and Zhang Huiyong, conducted by Ed Spanjaard.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From La Scala in Milan, last season's Opening Night performance of Verdi's Aida, with Violeta Urmana, Roberto Alagna, Ildiko KomLosy and Carlo Guelfi, conducted by Riccardo Chailly.
  • RTP Antena 2 - From the Opera Comique in Paris, a March 15, 2008 performance of Hérold's Zampa, with Patrícia Petibon, Doris Lamprecht, Richard Troxell, Bernard Richter, Leonard Pezzino and Vincent Ordonneau, conducted by William Christie.
  • VPR Classical - An historic broadcast from Kungliga Teatern in Stockholm, an August 29, 1939 performance of Verdi's La Traviata, with Jussi Björling, Hjördis Schymberg and Conny Molin, conducted by Herbert Sandberg.
  • WFMT Opera Series (numerous stations) - A double bill from Houston Grand Opera: Heggie's Last Acts (Three Decembers), with Frederica von Stade, Kristin Clayton, Keith Phares; and the World Premier of Theofanidis' The Refuge, with Albina Shagimuratova, Faith Sherman, Jamie Barton, Beau Gibson, Liam Bonner, Ryan McKinny, Philip Evbomoen, both works conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • WQXR & XLNC1 - From the WFMT Opera Series, a performance from Houston Grand Opera of Britten,s Billy Budd, with Andrew Kennedy, David Brooks Horn, Tommy Ajai George, Ryan McKinny, Richard Sutliff, Philip Cutlip, Beau Gibson, Chad Freeburg, Rodell Rosel, Liam Bonner, Jeremy Galyon, Phillip Ens, Joseph Evans, Wesley Landry, Daniel Belcher, James J. Kee, Gwynne Howell and David Ziemnicki, conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • Bartok Radio - From Munich, an October 2nd performance of Verdi's Macbeth, with Zeljko Lucic, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Nadja Michael, Dimitri Pittas, Fabrizio Mercurio, Lana Kos, Steven Humes, Rüdiger Trebes and Christian Rieger, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
  • France Musique - Live from Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, with Veronica Cangemi, Rinat Shaham, Paolo Fanale, Luca Pisaroni, Pietro Spagnoli and Yaël Azzaretti, conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi.
  • NPR World of Opera - From Washington National Opera, Strauss's Elektra, with Susan Bullock, Christine Goerke, Irina Mishua, Daniel Sumegi and Alan Woodrow, conducted by Heinz Fricke.
  • Lyric FM - Opera Ireland's production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Philip O'Reilly, Imelda Drumm, conducted by Stewart Robinson.
More to come...stay tuned.......

Monday, November 17, 2008


Sam Shirakawa attended Washington Opera's production of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia. Here is his squib:

The evening did not begin promisingly. The announcer alerting the not-quite sold-out audience to a last-minute substitution made you all too aware that you were in the operatic hinterlands: a certain "Raimondi Ruggero" (Who?) would be replaced by John Marcus Bindel at that performance of the Washington Opera's production of Lucrezia Borgia.

Darkened house lights only led to a rockier start -- rhythmic disconnects between the chorus and orchestra. Placido Domingo was on the podium, but his baton was doing its job, so don't blame him.

Once the performance got going though, I found myself in a time warp. I can't recall the last time I heard so much wonderful singing at a live opera performance; the Good Old Days of Opera are not gone. Well, not entirely gone.

Donizetti's opera is hard to mount in any age, because its musical hassles (and they are monumental) are too daunting even for singers possessing the requisite technique and that elusive X-factor: stylistic aptitude. Especially in the title role.

The WNO staged a major coup by engaging a world-famous diva and an emerging star to alternate as Lucrezia. I took no interest in Renee Fleming's debut with the company because I don't think she is right for Lucrezia; she proved a dud in the part at La Scala about ten years ago, and the initial reviews in DC indicated that little has changed. Her lesser known alternate also seemed primed for a fall: Sondra Radvanovsky is cementing her status as the leading Verdi soprano of her time, she has succeeded in rarefied areas of Verismo and has essayed a gemütliche Gutrune. Many are the sopranos who have made a career on far less. But if you're asking for trouble, why not go for the truly toxic?

Radvanovsky was clearly eager to drink from Lucrezia's deadly ring, but she must also have sagely tossed back a can of Red Bull as an antidotal chaser. Those in the audience who know the opera via Caballe most likely found that Radvanovsky is her own girl in the eponymous role. All the spine-tingling trills, frills and roulades are there along with the laser-beam high Bs and above. But she also brings an urgency and energy to the part that you often craved from Caballe but happily forewent in the thrall of that ravishing sound. Radvanovsky's triumph in the role was sealed when she managed to overcome the distraction of a hideous Barbarella-cum-Space Lounge waitress costume during her protracted appearance in the final act. (Are they incipient thunder thighs I spy beneath that trashy tutu?)

What Radvanovsky still lacks, though, is enchantment -- that diva aura. She has all the makings, but she needs a make-over to put it all together properly with maybe her own line of I'm-no-ordinary-working-girl accessories.

She might also take a cue from her tenor Vittorio Grigolo -- a phenomenon by any standard -- who sings Gennaro. If you know him only from the internet, it's easy to dismiss Grigolo as a glamah-boy pesante who's a wanna-be something-or-other. But get past the legions of gah-gah Cyberspace fans, the androgynous Latin Lothario looks, the washboard abs, those mostly awful crossover numbers -- and surf over to his serious stuff. You'll find that Grigolo is not only a macho Golden Boy at the age of 31, but also has a golden voice. It's bronze in the lower register, mellow in the middle, and just plain thrilling at the top. The numerous entries on YouTube don't do him justice. If you care about vocal art, take every measure to hear him live, and soon. His is the kind of instrument that can develop gradually into greater heights and depths or disappear overnight. Among the legions of tenors I have heard come and go, only three had Grigolo's miraculous raw material: Mario Del Monaco, Giuseppe Di Stefano and the tragic Frederic Kalt. But Grigolo has something that eluded them all: superior musical intelligence. While his acting is rudimentary, to say the least, his slash-and-thrust gestures are somehow mesmerizing -- much in the same way that (dare I say it?) Callas made her spontaneous arm movements work for her.

The blaze trailed by the two leads nearly obscured the notable contributions left by other members of the uniformly redoubtable cast.

First among equals, Kate Aldrich brought verve to the fireworks that Donizetti sets off in Orsini's set numbers and proved herself an agile athlete, jumping off platforms in elevated heels. (Watch the video on the WNO website -- ouch!) John Marcus Bindel was vocally secure and unusually sympathetic, standing in for the indisposed Ruggero Raimondi. (By the way, no signs were posted nor were inserts placed in the programs to advise the audience of the cast revision. Is that a cutback in these parlous times? -- or the WNO's way of circumventing demands for refunds?) Exceptional among the comprimarios: Yingxi Zhang as Rustighello, Jesus Hernandez, and Grigory Soloviov.

Critics have been generally soft on Placido Domingo's talents as a conductor, primarily, I think, because he doesn't disgrace himself. As his vocal career winds down, he might do well to work as hard on honing his vision as a conductor as he has on transforming his voice into a force to be reckoned with.

John Pascoe's production was for the most part eye-pleasing and occasionally thought-provoking. You may know that the convoluted plot (based on a play by Victor Hugo) about the infamous Borgia family involves jealousy and homicide in an unusual triangle -- Lucrezia's maternal love for her long-lost son Gennaro (and his unwitting passion for her), as well as Gennaro's ardent friendship with the warrior Orsini (a trouser role in the opera). Pascoe takes the libretto's sexual aspects to another level by making it clear that Orsini can make Gennaro's trousers really fill out. It's a touch that's surely touched a chord in F Major among DC's vast army of Spartan operagoers. Lest the point be overlooked, Pascoe had Grigolo play his death scene stripped to the waist and take his curtain calls shirtless.

Only one performance left to hear those abs pumping live! 17 November @ 7p, Kennedy Center, Washington DC.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Live Offerings - Saturday, November 15, 2008

Some promising live, live offerings: Marshner's Der Vampyr from Bologna; Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov from English National Opera; and Opera Ireland's performance of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

More chances to hear historic Met broadcasts: Beethoven's Fidelio from 1966 with Nilsson, King, et al; Verdi's Otello with Vickers, Te Kanawa (Met debut) and Stewart.

From Houston Grand Opera (all part of the WFMT opera Series): Mozart's Magic Flute and Abduction from the Seraglio, Britten's Billy Budd.

And THIS, just in (as of 1PM EST): WRTI in Philadelphia has preempted its airing of the WFMT Opera Series Billy Budd to offer us the Academy of Vocal Art's performance of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, with Angela Meade (who filled in so affectingly for Sondra Radvanovsky in Trovatore at the Met last season), Taylor Stayton, Olivia Vote, Ben Wager, Cynthia Cook, Nicholas Masters, and Noah Van Niel, conducted by Christopher Macatsoris. Starts at 1830/1:30PM. NOT TO BE MISSED!!!

Take a look and listen:

  • Espace Musique - From Pacific Opera Victoria, Blitzstein's Regina, with Kimberly Barber, Kathlenn Brett, Robyn Driedger-Klassen, Doug MacNaughton, Gregory Dahl, Dean Elzinga, Lawrence Williford, Tracie Luck, DeAndre Simmons and Louise Rose, conducted by Timothy Vernon.
  • LRT Klasika - From Vienna, Gounod's Faust, with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, conducted by Bertrand de Billy.
  • KBYU - A rebroadcast of this summer's Bayreueth Festival performance of Wagner's Parsifal.
  • CBC Two - A double bill: From Los Angeles Opera, Puccini's Tosca, with Neil Shicoff, Adrianne Pieczonka, Juan Pons and Robert Pomakov, conducted by Sir Richard Armstrong; and from Opera Australia, Puccini's Suor Angelica, with Nicole Youl, Hye Seoung Kwon, Milijana Nikolic, Elizabeth Campbell, Dominica Matthews, Rosemary Gunn, Elizabeth Ellis, Adele Johnston and Teresa La Rocca, mezzo-soprano, conducted by Andrea Licata.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur - From Gdansk, Poland, a June 28th performance of Siegfried Wagner's Der Schmied von Marienburg, with Marek Kalbus, Till Schulze, Anton Leiß-Huber, Christoph von Weitzel, Karl Schneider, Maacha Deubner, Johannes Föttinger, Therese Glaubitz, Ralf Sauerbrey and Rebecca Broberg, conducted by Frank Strobel.
  • DR P2 - From Lausanne, an April 25th perforomance of Hande's Julius Cæsar, with Andreas Scholl, Yannis Francois, Stéphanie d'Oustrac, Max Emanuel Cencic, Elena de la Merced, Christophe Dumaux, Riccardo Novaro and Florin Cezar-Ouatu, conducted by Ottavio Dantone.
  • France Musique - From l'Opéra Bastille in Paris, an October 13th performance of Janácek's La petite renarde rusée (The Cunning Littel Vixen), with Jukka Rasilainen, Michèle Lagrange, David Kuebler, Roland Bracht, Paul Gay, Elena Tsallagova and Hannah Esther Minutillo, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands, Radio Clasica de Espana & Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro Comunale in Bologna, a live performance of Marschner's Der Vampyr, with Harry Peeters, Carmela Remigio, John Osborn, Detlef Roth, Roberto Tagliavini, Manuela Bisceglie, Paolo Cauteruccio, Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi, Thomas Morris, Mario Bolognesi, Gabriele Ribis, Conal Coad, Monica Minarelli, Adrian Sampetrean and Karl Heinz Macek, conducted by Roberto Abbado.
  • RTP Antena 2 - From l'Opéra Bastille in Paris, a March 8th performance of Verdi's Luisa Miller, with Ana Maria Martínez, Elisa Cenni, Ramón Vargas, Vincent Morell, Andrzej Dobber, Ildar Abdrazakov and Kwangchul Youn, conducted by Massimo Zanetti.
  • WFMT Opera Series (on numerous stations) - From Houston Grand Opera, Britten's Billy Budd, with Andrew Kennedy, David Brooks Horn, Tommy Ajai George, Ryan McKinny, Richard Sutliff, Philip Cutlip, Beau Gibson, Chad Freeburg, Rodell Rosel, Liam Bonner, Jeremy Galyon, Phillip Ens, Joseph Evans, Wesley Landry, Daniel Belcher, James J. Kee, Gwynne Howell and David Ziemnicki, conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • WQXR - From Houston Grand Opera, Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, with Karen Armstrong, Paul Groves, Andrea Silvestrelli, Heidi Stober, Nicholas Phan and Richard Spuler, conducted by William Lacey.
  • XLNC1 - From Houston Grand Opera, Mozart's The Magic Flute, with Rebekah Camm, Eric Cutler, Patrick Carfizzi, Albina Shagimuratova, Raymond Aceto, Jon Kolbet, Alicia Gianni, Chen-Ye Yuan, Tamara Wilson, Maria Markina and Jamie Barton, conducted by Steven Sloane.
  • BBC Radio 3 - Live from English National Opera, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, with Peter Rose, John Graham-Hall, David Stephenson, Brindley Sherratt, Gregory Turay, Yvonne Howard, Jonathan Veira, Anton Rich, Sophie Bevan, Ann Grevelius, Deborah Davison, James Gower, Paul Napier-Burrows, Charles Johnston, Philip Daggett, and Robert Murray, conducted by Edward Gardner.
  • Bartok Radio - From Teatro Regio in Turin, an October 9th performance of Cherubini's Medea, with Anna Caterina Antonacci, Cinzia Forte, Sara Mingardo, Giuseppe Filianoti, Giovanni Battista Parodi, Erika Grimaldi, Luisa Francesconi, Diego Matamoros, conducted by Evelino Pido.
  • NPR World of Opera - From Washington National Opera, yet another chance to hear Handel's Tamerlano, with Placido Domingo, David Daniels, Sarah Coburn, Patricia Bardon, Claudio Huckle and Andrew Foster Williams, conducted by William Lacey.
  • Lyric FM - Live from Opera Ireland, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, with Yunah Lee and Keith Olsen, conducted by Bruno dal Bon.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Opéra Garnier in Paris, Gluck's Iphegenie en Tauride, with Mireille Delunsch, Stéphane Degout, Yann Beuron, Franck Ferrari, Salomé Haller, conducted by Ivor Bolton.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - From the Metropolitan Opera, an historic broadcast of Beethoven's Fidelio (January 22, 1966), with Birgit Nilsson, James King, Geraint Evans, Otto Edelmann, Mary Ellen Pracht, Charles Anthony and Sherill Milnes, conducted by Karl Böhm.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From this past summer's Bayreuth Festival, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
  • Espace 2 - From the Metropolitan Opera, an historic broadcast of Verdi's Otello, with Jon Vickers, Kiri Te Kanawa, Thomas Stewart, Jean Kraft, William Lewis, Andrea Velis, Robert Goodloe, Paul Plishka and David Holloway, conducted by James Levine.
  • Klara - From Berwaldhallen in Stockholm, an August 29th performance of Strauss's Elektra, with Larisa Gogolevskaya, Elena Vitman, Elena Nebera, Vasily Gorshkov, Eduard Tsanga, Pavel Shmulevich, Ludmila Kanunnikova, Ludmila Kasyanenko, Andrey Popov, Andrey Spekhov, Irina Loskutova, Olga Legkova, Kristina Kapustinskaya, Maria Uvarova, Tatiana Kravtsova and Lia Shevtsova, conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Happy listening . . . .

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Damnation Redux - Friday, November 14, 2008

Some comments on Sam Shirakawa's squib on the Met's new production of The Damnation of Faust, based on my own observations at Friday evening's performance:

G and I sat near the back of the Family Circle, but off to one side. I was not aware of the whirring of the projectors from the lighting booth above the Family Circle, so I suspect Sam heard the racket because he was sitting closer to the center of the Family Circle. Since Opening Night, the Met may also have worked to dampen the noise.

I agree with Sam about the the two-dimensionality of the production. This was especially obvious in the dance sequences where the dancers all moved laterally to and fro across the stage, but the stretches of stage they had to work with amounted to wider than normal catwalks.

Some of the video effects were striking - one of the more arresting images came late in the second act: as Méphistophélès stalks Faust to seek his signature on the deed, one by one the trees with their fall foliage wither as Méphistophélès advances across the stage towards his quarry - chilling and effective.

As for the singing, Susan Graham was wonderful throughout, perhaps the best I had ever heard her, with warm and plangent tone, long-breathed phrasing and generally good diction. Patrick Carfizzi, as the drunkard, Brander, made the most of his aria, with admirably clear diction. I have always loved Carfizzi's voice and presence and wonder why he has not been given meatier roles (I suspect he could handle Méphistophélès with more panache than John Relyea did tonight).

Relyea looked smashing in his red leather suit and feathered cap, but I wish his singing had more of the French suavity required for the role. His serenade in Part III passed without note (or applause). After such a promising beginning as a young singer, his singing has become more throaty and constricted over the last few seasons. Marcello Giordani's singing was coarse and unstylish all evening, and his diction was unintelligible.

Sam is right about James Levine's conducting, and I also agree with Sam that it was distracting to watch the reflection of him conducting in the onstage screens all evening. I am sure no one in the production staff ever went upstairs to see if there would be reflection problems for those sitting in the gods....

Altogether a mixed bag - Berlioz's music and his orchestrations are constantly dazzling, and the ending was sublime, but the singing was more disappointing that one might wish. Still I wouldn't want to have missed this extraordinary event.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Philadelphia Orchestra Concert - Die Meistersinger 13 November 2008

Sam Shirakawa journeyed to Philadelphia last night to see and hear James Morris in some Die Meistersinger highlights with the Philadelphia Orchestra .... but.....well, read on:

The management of the Philadelphia Orchestra this week found that Friday the 13th fell on Thursday.

Mid-morning on 13 November, baritone and renowned Wagner singer James Morris declared indisposition and cancelled his appearance at that evening's concert in Verizon Hall. A frantic search ultimately led to Myrtle Beach, where a replacement was hastily recruited in the person of Tom Fox.

No announcement of the day's events was made to the audience in attendance until just before Mr. Fox appeared on stage -- possibly because he arrived at the hall after the first half of the concert had begun. Nobody, I guess, was sure if he would show up.

Well, he did show up, and an hour's worth of "bleeding chunks" from Die Meistersinger went off as though Mr. Fox had been originally scheduled. While his performance fell a tad short of commanding, his traversal of the Fliedermonolog, the Wahnmonolog and Hans Sach's final oration was imbued with confidence, a firm line, rhythmic incisiveness and stylistic grace.

It would be churlish to delve further into the performance of any last-minute replacement, especially one that literally had just popped in off the street, so I won't. If his name doesn't ring a bell, you may remember him as Alberich or as Jaroslav Prus [pop quiz: what's the opera?] at the Met. But all that was at least seven years ago, and Mr. Fox has spent the interim years building his sizable repertoire at numerous European venues, notably in Mannheim, where he appeared as Hans Sachs for the first time earlier this month in a new production of Meistersinger directed by Jens-Daniel Herzog and led by Friedemann Layer.

The current string of concerts is being led by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, a popular guest with the Orchestra and possibly one of the five most underrated conductors in the last third of the 20th century. [Pick the other four yourself.] Given the massive truncations necessary in reducing the Meistersinger excerpts to an hour's length and the requisite compromises in accommodating a last-minute stand-in, Frühbeck could only render an inkling of what he might do with a complete performance of Wagner's masterpiece. But it was a tantalizing inkling.

Brief and also tantalizing interjections were provided by Canadian tenor Jeffrey Halili and soprano Jessica Julin, as well as the Philadelphia Singers Chorale.

The only palpable evidence of mishaps occurred in the surtitles flashed above the performing platform. Mechanical failures or human error left the words "ignore them" on the scrim for an inordinately long time during the Fliedermonolog.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the program was the reading of Beethoven's Symphony Nr. 8, which took up the first half of the program. But a website devoted to opera is not the place for a discussion of it.

Whether James Morris will appear at all remains to be heard. He has two more chances: tonight and tomorrow [editor's note: according to the Philadelphia Orchestra website, Mr. Fox was scheduled to sing Friday's and Saturday's concerts]. If Tom Fox continues to replace him, it would be worth hearing how good a fit he makes by Saturday evening.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Digital Damnation - Metropolitan Opera / November 7, 2008

Sam Shirakawa attended the Opening Night of the Met's new production of La Damnation de Faust. Here is his squib:

If you were sitting in the uppermost tier (Balcony/Family Circle) of the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night, you could both see and hear the much vaunted computer-driven settings that are flashed onto the stage in the new production of Berlioz' Le Damnation de Faust -- the composer's discursive take on Goethe's epic.

See AND hear?

The whirring motors driving/cooling the projectors in the booth protruding from the ceiling were so loud, that you were hard put to hear anything from the stage or pit registering below mezzo-forte--which was often.

The complexities of Robert Lepage's pretty and pretty interactive production are outlined in Daniel Wakin's New York Times article, so I won't rehash them here.


The mammoth five-level grid that Lepage imposes on the proscenium is so shallow that the stage becomes a giant computer screen on which singers and dancers move up, down and across, but never to and fro. It's all in your face, oddly two-dimensional, and somehow heartless. You get some sense of depth from the reflector scrims at the rear of the grid, but they also mirror (irritatingly, I might add) the lights on the music stands in the orchestra pit, as well as James Levine sawing away on the podium.

So shallow a stage space, however, turned out to be a boon for the singers trying to project over the augmented orchestra and the droning projector motors, lest we forget that opera is primarily about singing. The title role is a killer, but Marcello Giordano seemed to have no problems scaling its heights on Friday night. John Relyea cut an imposing figure as Mephistopheles and cut through dense orchestral thickets without effort. Susan Graham may be listed on the roster as a mezzo-soprano, but her as-usual flawless portrayal of Marguerite smacked more of Schwarzkopf than of Suzanne Danco. (I can't say anything about her rendition of " D'Amour l'ardente flamme" because she was no match for the projector motors going full tilt.) The chorus--also augmented--seemed muffled throughout the performance, especially in the penultimate pandemonium, where literally all hell breaks loose.

It's easy to take James Levine for granted, because he almost always makes everything work. Berlioz more often than not requires a traffic cop on the podium rather than a conductor, and Levine steered the orchestra, chorus and cast through choppy straits with his customary elan.

For all the high falutin' digital decor in this production, poor Susan Graham sicut Marguerite had to ascend to Heaven the old-fashioned analogue way -- schlepping step by step up a frail ladder into the flies. But maybe that's LaPage's ultimate point: Paradise awaits at the top of a five-story walk-up.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Live Offerings - Saturday, November 1, 2008 - PART II

If you think that things from Europe seem to be starting a little earlier than usual, you're right. Europe came off Daylight Savings (Summer) Time last weekend. Tonight most of North America comes off Daylight Savings Time at 2:00AM local time. Wouldn't it be nice if the U.S. was on the same schedule as everybody else in the Northern Hemisphere?

And now, the rest of the live offerings for this afternoon:

  • DR P2 - From Rome, an October 16th performance of Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso, with Romina Basso, Manuela Custer, Sylva Pozzer, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Jordi Domenech, David D. Q. Lee and Lorenzo Regazzo, conducted by Andrea Marcon.
  • France Musique - From l'Opéra national de Lorraine in Nancy, France, an October 1st concert performance of Battistelli's Divorce à l'italienne, with Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Bruno Pratico, Jean Ségani, Peter Edelmann, Olivier Grand, Pascal Desaux, Theodora Gheoghiu, Bernhard Landauer, Xavier Szymczak, Benjamin Colin, Wenwei Zhang and Julien Véronèse, conducted by Daniel Kawka.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands & Sveriges Radio P2 - From Washington National Opera, Handel's Tamerlano, with Placido Domingo, David Daniels, Sarah Coburn and Patricia Bardon, conducted by William Lacy.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest, Beethoven's Fidelio, with Thomas Moser and Evelyn Herlitzius, conducted by Adam Fischer.
  • RTP Antena 2 - From Lisbon, a February 22nd perfromance of
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From the Vienna State Opera, a performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, with Leo Nucci, Roxana Briban, Giacomo Prestia and Mario Malagnini, conducted by Yves Abel.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - From Vienna, Mendelssohm's oratorio, Elias, with Malin Hartelius, Bernarda Fink, Johannes Chum, Thomas Quasthoff, conducted by Johannes Prinz.
  • Radio Slovenia Tretji - From this past summer's bayreuth Festival, Wagner's Siegfried.
  • Espace 2 - From Geneva, Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, with Paul Groves, Elina Garanca, Sir Willard White and René Schirrer, conducted by John Nelson.
  • Klara - From London, a Proms performance of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione de Poppea, with Danielle de Niese, Alice Coote, Iestyn Davies, Tamara Mumford, Marie Arnet, Paolo Battaglia, Amy Freston, Sonya Yoncheva, Simona Mihai, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke and Dominique Visse, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm.
  • Latvia Klasika Radio - From Turin, an October 18th performance of Cherubini's Medea, with Anna Katerina Antonacci, Sara Mingardo and Giuseppe Filianoti, conducted by Evelino Pido.
  • WDAV - NPR World of Opera: From Washington National Opera, Bolcom's A View from the Bridge, with Kim Josephson, Catherine Malfitano, Christine Brandes, Gregory Turay, Richard Bernstein, John Del Carlo, Kirc Eichelberger and Greg Warren, conducted by John DeMain.

Happy listening . . . .

Live Offerings - Saturday, November 1, 2008 - PART I

Some Wagner this week - Rienzi and Flying Dutchman .... another chance to hear the houston Grand Opera performance of Daughter of the Regiment with Laura Claycomb, Barry Banks and Ewa Podles .... a double bill from Glyndebourne od Rameau's Pygmalion and MOnteverdi's L'Incoronazione de Poppea .... Madama Butterfly from Utahy opera .... and more:
  • Espace Musique - From this past summer's Glyndebourne season, a double bill: Rameau's Pygmalion, with Suzie Leblanc, Nathalie Paulin, Catherine Webster, Matthew White, Colin Balzer, Lawrence Wilford and Tyler Duncan, conducted by Alexander Weimann and Marc Destrubé; and Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, with Sonya Yoncheva, Simona Mahai, Amy Freston, Christophe Dumaux, Alice Coote, Danielle de Niese, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke and Tamara Mumford, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm.
  • LRT Klasika - Handel's Oratorio, Jephtha, with Atlieka K. van Rensburg, R. Džošua, Patricia Bardon and V. Piurfua, conducted by Rene Jacobs.
  • CBC Two - From Leipzig, Wagner's Rienzi, with Stefan Vinke, Marika Schönberg, Pavel Kudinov, Elena Zhidkova, Jürgen Kurth, Christopher Robertson, Martin Petzold, Thomas Oertel-Gormanns and Gabriela Scherer, conducted by Axel Kober.
  • KBYU - From Utah Opera, an October performance of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, with Barbara Shirvis, Scott Piper ann Andrew Oakden, conducted by Joseph Mechavich.
  • WFMT Opera Series (on numerous stations) - From Houston Grand Opera, Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, with Paul Groves, Osmin, Nicholas Phan, Richards Spuler, Pamela Armstrong or Tamara Wilson and Heidi Stober, conducted by William Lacey.
  • WFMT & XLNC1 - (a week behind the rest of the WFMT pack) From Houston Grand Opera, Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, with Liam Bonner, Ewa Podles, Cameron F. Schutza, Bruno Praticò, Laura Claycomb, Barry Banks, James J. Kee, Grant Loehnig, Ross Chitwood, and Diane Zola, conducted by Riccardo Frizza.
  • NPR World of Opera - From Washington National Opera, Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, with Alan Held, Jennifer Wilson, Gidon Saks, Ian Storey, Janice Meyerson and Andreas Conrad, conducted by Heinz Fricke.
  • Dwjke Polskie Radio - From Budapest, a May 20th performance of Beethoven's Fidelio, with Thomas Moser, Evelyn Herlitzius, Friedemann Kunder, Eszter Wierdl, Attila Fekete, Béla Perencz and Gábor Bretz, conducted by Adam Fischer.
  • BBC Radio 3 - From the Vienna State Opera, a February 2008 performance of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, with Barbara Frittoli, Angelika Kirchschlager, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Francesco Meli, Natale De Carolis and Laura Tatulescu, conducted by Riccardo Muti.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From Geneva, a 2007 performance of Handel's Ariodante, with Antonio Abete, Patricia Petibon, Joyce DiDonato, Charles Workman, Sandrine Piau and Marie-Nicole Lemieux, conducted by Kenneth Montgomery.
More to come...look for Part II shortly....