Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lieto evento: Anna Bolena at the Met

The modern performance history of Donizetti's Anna Bolena has been defined by its divas. For its first performance at the Met, Anna Netrebko took on the titular role and made it her own. David McVicar's austere, imposing sets worked to keep the drama moving inexorably forward. Having experienced his smart, sexy Trovatore, and admired his Salome, I was surprised by the extent of its traditionalism. Still, it was sleek and mostly unfussy, and Personenregie seemed solid (I do wonder how many of Anna's dramatic moments may be attributed to the director, and how many to the diva.) The Met orchestra were on excellent form, and Marco Armiliato's conducting was supportive, if not electrifying. There was much fine singing--notably from Tamara Mumford as Smeton--but Netrebko was without question the strongest presence.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dolci e bei momenti: snapshots from the Met gala

The Metropolitan Opera season has officially begun! Let joy be unconfined! Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor (to quote Groucho Marx in "A Night at the Opera.") I've been humming Donizetti for the past twenty-four hours, and may not come down from my opera high for some time yet. Last night's Anna Bolena was a great occasion: there was the frisson of feeling that one was part of an Event; there was the sense of homecoming accompanying the "firsts" of the season: approaching that facade, seeing all the familiar front-of-house faces, and climbing all the stairs before settling into the standing room places at the top of the Family Circle; and most importantly, there was a heck of an opera performance. But before I get to writing up the performance, here are some snapshots of the audience.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Allons, allons, accourez tous: Lully's Atys at BAM

Les Arts Florissants. Photo (c) Pierre Grosbois
At the conclusion of Wednesday's performance of Atys at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I was standing in the last row, clapping and shouting to express my delight and my gratitude; but I might as well have been silent upon a peak in Darien. My only previous acquaintance with Jean-Baptiste Lully's opera (Really Shameful Confession) had been through Les Arts Florissants' 1987 recording. Experiencing the ensemble's live performance of the work was a revelation. The device of employing the sumptuous decor and costumes of the ancien régime made sense of the opera's masques and dances, and its earnest debates on love and reason, tyranny and freedom, duty and desire. The magic of the evening, though, lay in the miracle of its coherence: orchestra, singers, and dancers together created an elegant, expressive performance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Opera and religion: assorted thoughts on Nabucco

Persian warriors depicted on the Ishtar Gate (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)
I apologize, Gentle Readers, if it seems less than gracious to emerge from blog silence with such a weighty topic in tow. But here I am, seething with thoughts! Nabucco being one of the first operas on the Met's fall schedule, I thought it was high time I got to know more of it than "Va, pensiero." I did so thanks to a musically brilliant performance from La Scala, under Muti, with Renato Bruson as the titular king, and Ghena Dimitrova an astonishing Abigaille (DVD.) The production was a curious (if undeniably, even excitingly grand) affair, with costumes and decor appearing to be inspired by Assyrian art and architecture, possibly descriptive passages from the Old Testament, possibly medieval representations of biblical scenes, possibly nineteenth-century Orientalist fantasies, and almost certainly Star Trek. The cumulative effect was visually stunning; the architecture, especially, was gorgeous. But there were huge amounts of exploration not being done. It seems to me that, even before discussing possibilities for complicating Verdi's drama, acknowledging the ambiguities and complexities inherent in it would be a herculean task for any director. If you feel like bearing with me while I mull over some of these ambiguities and complexities, Gentle Readers, read on!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Damrau, Thielemann, Strauss: Poesie

My expectations of Diana Damrau's most recent recital disc were stratospherically high. Damrau is a singer whose technique and musical intelligence I admire, and here she is partnered by none other than Strauss-specialist Christian Thielemann leading the Münchner Philharmoniker. At first listen, I was a little disappointed; the rich detail and intense passion of Strauss's lieder did not come through with the clarity I expected. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say "in the manner I expected," since more, and more attentive listening led to a revision of this judgment. Not all of the songs come through with equal individuality, in my opinion, but Damrau's security of phrasing and excellent diction keep them on a firm footing throughout. With Thielemann and the orchestra I cannot find fault; dynamics and tempi were handled with nuance and insight. Indeed, Damrau and the other musicians seem on this disc to do the reverse of tearing a passion to tatters: subtlety and restraint allow the rich intensity of Strauss's "miniatures," as Damrau calls them, to shine, perhaps differently than the listener expects them to.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dov'è eravamo? September miscellany

September is upon us, Gentle Readers, and with it the return of additional academic responsibilities.  This autumn will be the second half of my preparation time for the oral exams for which I have been studying throughout the summer. I'm also teaching two classes, full to bursting with students who need to acquire skills, and who I hope will acquire some enthusiasm for the subject. I know, it's nothing to do with you... except that all this activity will probably result in a somewhat pared-back blogging schedule. The other possibility is that I will go slightly insane and attempt to take refuge in my familiar rituals of attending classical music events, resulting in a frenzy of emotionally overwrought responses to same. Stay tuned to find out what happens! In any case, I'll be enjoying the glorious golden weather and the autumn fruit, and I hope you'll be able to do likewise. I'll take this opportunity to note that subscribing to posts in some form (whether by RSS feed or following the blog) will save you the trouble of checking back for posts that aren't here. For now, though, Gentle Readers, I leave you with Keats and Rilke, and one of the few lesson scenes in opera which does not involve disguises and/or crazy hijinks.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...